Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why Progressives Keep on Losing

Writing in the Huffington Post, Richard Eskow asks Why Progressives Keep On Losing and the Right Keeps On Winning? His analysis is interesting in what it reveals about the progressive mindset.

Once again the unpopular views of a minority have been imposed on the majority. Others will rant and rave about the Democratic leadership, and in fact that process has already begun. But progressives in this country should be asking themselves a serious question: Why does the Tea Party seem to be so much more effective than the left as a movement?

Eskow comes up with five causes. The first one is money. The evil Koch brothers and the sinister US Chamber of Commerce spent so much money that the electorate became confused and voted for the evil party whose vision for America, according to Askow, is

one where the environment is despoiled, the poor go unfed, and the middle class faces a lifetime of financial insecurity following by an old age of sickness and penury

Wow! The party of evil must have really buried the Democrats under a mountain of money. How much does it take to sell this vision - 50% more? 100% more? Twice as much? Three times as much? Five times as much? And the Republicans won on every level taking a larger share of state and local government than they have held since the Depression.

Eskow does not supply any figures on donations. He can't because they immediately disprove his assertion. Unions such as the SEIU gave more than the Kochs and the Chamber of Commerce. Campaign spending in 2010 did not overwhelmingly favor Republicans.

If money is the only factor then Eskow does not need to worry. The Obama campaign is already talking about setting new spending records. They have tossed around the figure of $1 trillion dollars.

But if Eskow's assertions about campaign spending are questionable then it is hard to describe the remaining four. According to him, they are:

24-Hour Party People. This boils down to commitment to party over principals. When the Tea Party did this the Progressives said that they were dooming themselves by replacing candidates who would win easily with unelectable radicals. Emphasizing ideology over party is dangerous since it can doom a party to minority status. This may have cost the Republicans control of the Senate in 2010.

If the Democrats were losing because of disunity at the bottom this might be a valid concern.

Premature Exhilaration Eskow seems to think that the Progressives started doing their victory dance before their signature bills were passed. This just didn't happen. Instead of celebrating stalled bills, the Progressives spent their time worrying about why they hadn't passed. He does admit that both health care and financial reform are deeply flawed but is too quick to dismiss the political compromise that was needed to pass them. He does not seem to understand that without the flaws the bills would never have passed at all.

The "XFK" Phenomenon Eskow thinks that Progressives are sitting on their thumbs, waiting for the next JFK to lead them out of the wilderness.

Activists succeed when they stop following leaders and start acting for themselves. The Tea Party is seen as a leaderless movement. By having no alliance to a party or a politician, it holds a credible veto threat over the Republicans and their leadership. There's something to learn from that.

This is a convenient excuse. It is not the Progressive movement that has failed, it is their leaders who failed. It overlooks the fact that even the Tea Party has unofficial leaders.

2021 Vision Oh yes, the "vision thing". This is where Eskow presents his dystopian version of the Tea Party vision then challenges the left to come up with their own vision. He even starts off with his own version which boils down to "break all records on spending then increase".

What he calls vision is basically the party platform - what the party will do if elected. Platforms are easy when you are the party out of power. They get tougher when you are the party in power. Then you have to stop running on promises for the future and start running on your accomplishments.

The reality. The Progressives have been losing because they had their chance and they blew it. They controlled both houses of Congress starting with the 2006 election, They added the White House and increased their majorities in Congress in 2008. They still control the White House and half of Congress. So what is stopping them?

Eskow never questions his base assumptions - that Progressives are morally superior and that they represent the real will of the people. His example of a vision shows that he still does not understand fiscal realities.

The reason that Progressives lost so solidly in the 2010 election was that the voters rejected them. They were elected to create jobs and turn around the economy and end the wars. Instead, joblessness increased, the economy stagnated, and the wars continued. What we got instead were programs that even Eskow admits are deeply flawed and mountains of debt.

When voters rejected the Republicans, they examined themselves and changed their priorities. They cast off the big-government vision of George W. Bush in favor of fiscal responsibility and limited government.

Rather than engage in similar introspection, Eskow starts from the assumption that there is nothing wrong with their priorities. They just need better ways of selling them.

President Obama seems to have adjusted the new realities and has been able to deal with the Republicans, Tea Party and all. For this, Eskow has disowned him.

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