On the Courage of Politicians
This Daily Kos diary
is interesting, in how its author channels his/her frustration over the Iraq funding vote through both a very important insight and a completely useless cliche.
The cliche is that "we are, indeed, a one-party state in this country." It's a lazy sentiment driven by a cranky defeatism, and it demonstrates an unwillingness or inability to analyze, with competence, American politics as they actually function. The United States, for various reasons, has almost always had two large coalition parties, each vying against the other for overlapping constituencies, but each also veering out in various directions, sometimes with great thrust and surprising radicalism, and each party also contradicting itself with regularity. If anything, the American parties have in recent years arguably become more disciplined, more "party-like"
in the European sense than ever before. In fact, that development is closely related to the current crisis.
The insight in theyrereal's diary is contained in this observation:
Who do the Democrats fear?
Do they fear us? Obviously no. Not one stinking bit.
Do they fear the American people in general? Same answer, only with laughter.
The diarist veers in the wrong direction with the next sentence, arguing that what the Democrats fear is something called "The Corporatocracy Gang of Which George Bush is the official Figurehead." Not that "coporatocracy" and "gang" are necessarily bad ways to describe the Bush administration. But the analysis is headed into the weeds. Let's bring it back on track.
I write a lot about the various dilemmas facing the conservative movement and the Republican party. They are serious, complex problems, but I don't want to come across as a pollyanna. If there is one thing that the cave-in on the Supplemental has demonstrated, it is the continuing power of the machine built by the modern American conservative movement. That's the answer to theyrereal's question. Who do the Democrats fear? They fear that machine.
That's why something so apparently remarkable can happen -- how, at a time when the American public hates the Iraq war with more intensity
than ever before, and when the President who owns the war is himself less popular than ever, the party that was given a majority with a clear mandate to end the war can, to its own humiliation, completely give up on trying to do so. The Democrats folded because they felt unable to call the right's bluff, because they fear what Bill O'Reilly and the American Enterprise Institute will say about them, and how Chris Matthews and the Washington Post will take up the same talking points -- Pelosi and Reid found it in themselves to resist that pressure for a time, but couldn't summon the courage to withstand an intensified and ongoing barrage of it. They folded because in the end they didn't trust their newfound party unity to hold up to the more practiced discipline on the other side of the aisle. They folded because they felt too exposed.
It isn't to let them off the hook, but let's consider the possibility that the progressive movement still has a good way to go before we can really counter the effects of what the conservative movement has built. And even when we have the institutions, it'll take a while for the politicians to catch up.
The single-best piece of advice for progressives is still Franklin Roosevelt's admonishment to that group of labor leaders who visited him in the Oval Office with a demand: "You have convinced me. Now go out and find a constituency and make me do it
." This is the principle around which the entire conservative media and political edifice is built.
The lesson of the 2004 election was that the fortunes of a political movement cannot ride upon the fate of a presidential campaign; if anything, it should be the other way around.
Likewise, the fortunes of a political movement cannot be made dependant upon the courage of politicians
. The point of a political movement is to make the courage of politicians irrelevant
.(Cross-posted at The Daily Gotham and The Albany Project.)
Labels: conservatives, Democrats, Iraq, progressives, Republicans