Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Can the 'Movement' Challenge the 'Establishment'?

The Struggle Between the 'Status Quo Establishment' and the 'Progressive Movement' over Primacy in the Democratic Party in the 2006 and 2008 Elections and Beyond

There seems to be an increasing conflict between what is alternatively called the 'democratic wing of the Democractic Party' (Paul Wellstone; Howard Dean), the 'MoveOn wing of the party' (Robert Borosage) or the 'progressive movement' (David Sirota) and what is referred to as the 'establishment' of moderate and centrist liberals, not only over Iraq, social, economic and a host of other policies, but also over how to win the 2006 and 2008 elections, and ultimately over the long-term primacy in the Democratic Party beyond the necessarily short-term perspective of elections and legislative periods. What appears to be at stake is the future of the Democratic Party, contested between the centrists and moderates revolving around the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) who would like to maintain the status quo, and the 'grassroots' who intend to transform it into an effective instrument for truly progressive political and ultimately social change.

According to David Sirota, author, political strategist, and co-chair of the Progressive States Network, 2006 is the year the progressive movement became a movement. As evidence, he points to the growth of grassroots organizations such as MoveOn and the Progressive States Network (originally launched as the Progressive Legislative Action Network, PLAN), the 'huge' numbers of people buying recently published books like Crashing the Gate and his own, Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Have Conquered Our Government - and How We Can Take it Back, the emergence of the progressive blogosphere and its associated writers (see yesterday's post), 'overcrowded' events such as the recent YearlyKos Convention and the currently ongoing Take Back America conference (TBA), and the increasing number of 'progressive' candidates, such as Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jon Tester (D-MT).

Robert L. Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future (CAF), which organizes TBA, points to similar evidence in The Turning?, which was posted in The Nation on June 8 (June 26, 2006 issue). Both Borosage and Sirota make a similar argument, namely that the current weakness of the Republicans represents a unique opportunity not only to win the 2006 and 2008 elections, but to do so by offering a 'populist' and 'real politics of the common good' (Borosage), and thereby moving the country in a more progressive direction in terms of politics and policies. Borosage makes this alternative clear by distinguishing in his article between 'the debate we will have' and 'the debate we need to have.' For a good summary of his main ideas, you can also watch his opening statement yesterday at the TBA.

Indeed, a new poll suggests that this opportunity does in fact exist, but cautions that it will take a great effort of persuasion on the part of progressives. These debates highlight the long-standing conflict between those whose ultimate goal is to win elections and to govern on a more or less neoliberal platform, and those who whose ultimate goal is to bring about progressive social change, among other means by winning elections. Interestingly enough, both the 'centrists' and the 'progressives' are concerned that the other's strategy will fail to win elections, just like in years past. Is the US really ready for a full-fledged progressive alternative to politics-as-usual and is the 'progressive movement' strong enough to bring it about?


At Tue Jun 13, 01:56:00 PM, Blogger Bannager Bong said...

Why do progressives need the Democrats? It really is the other way around. In the past third party movements have failed because they concentrated on the presidency, or at least on controlling the agenda. The House is split. The Senate is split. A national progressive party that wins, say, 5 Senate seats and maybe a dozen House seats could determine who gets to chair the commitees. That would be worth putting some really issues on the table, no?

At Tue Jun 13, 04:09:00 PM, Blogger Wolfgang Brauner said...

If progressives want to transform the Democratic Party, they will need to persuade and cooperate with a significant number of Democrats. Unfortunately, given the US electoral system, third parties seem to be a losing proposition. For a good explanation of this and alternatives, see Bill Domhoff's writing here:


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