Although there is some doubt as to its attribution, Albert Einstein is often credited with defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Whether he sad it or not, it’s a pretty good definition. Einstein also said, “A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.”
I hear that Einstein was a pretty keen mind, so it would probably be a good idea for unicorn progressives to listen closely to that advice. As a movement, progressives have been pretty static. We have been on the outside looking in, politically speaking, for far too long. And the main reason is because we keep doing the same things over and over, in part because some of the loudest segment of liberals don’t see things as they are, but as they believe they should be, For more than 40 years, we have watched as a small but significant group of far lefties abandoned both the Democratic Party and 90 percent of liberals, even as they whined constantly that the Democratic Party was moving “too far to the right.”
Okay, first, you have to ask why anyone would not expect a political party to move right when a huge contingent of liberals moving out of the party. But then, you have to look at reality. Yes, a whole bunch of liberals abandoned the Democratic Party, but so did a whole shitload of Dixiecrats. Surely, they have to have noticed that the worst of the worst of the Democratic Party have all joined the GOP. They make up the Trumpian base, for Chrissakes. In other words, unicorn progressives don’t seem to have any clue that the Democratic Party is made up of people who are more favorable to us now than when we passed such great things as Medicare, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And yet, when you listen to the professional left, you would swear the Party was made up of the worst right wingers imaginable.
I have ideals, too. I can quote Locke, Hobbes and Thomas Jefferson as well as any pro lefty; better than some of them. However, while ideals can be admirable, reality is a much greater foundation for a movement. Ideals don’t feed the kids and pay the bills. While you’re demanding a unicorn and a billion dollars, most voters just want a good job that pays the mortgage and doesn’t kill them in the process. They want to make sure their families have shelter and a decent future. A lot of that is in greater danger than it used to be, but the Democrats didn’t do that. There is nothing bad that is going on right now that can’t be lain at the feet of the GOP and most decidedly NOT the Democrats. Yes, that includes Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
You can demand all of the neat-o ideal things you want, but unless you are doing everything you can to keep Democrats in power, none of that is happening. If you don’t think I’m correct, I present you the last 36 years. I mean, we have to fight tooth and nail to get anything progressive passed. Why do you think that is?
If we want to be taken seriously as a movement in the political system, all progressives have to understand some basic truths and incorporate them into the movement. If we don’t understand and acknowledge these basic truths, neocons will continue to dominate the debate, we will keep moving backward as a movement, and the country will regret it.
Truth #1 – In a winner-take-all electoral system, two major political parties is a rarity and should be treasured. Three is a fantasy.
I can hear the professional lefties screaming at their computer or phone screens now, but here’s a challenge; name one other democracy that has more than two strong major political parties. Most have but one, with a second party sometimes representing a challenge. And yes, that includes the magical “parliamentary” systems, which unicorn progressives maintain have dozens of parties. If you want to get technical, we have 134 political parties in this country. And yet, in 99.5% of cases, either a Democrat or a Republican will win.
It’s not a conspiracy. The “system” isn’t “rigged.” It’s called math. In a democracy, only those with a majority get to make policy and each member of that majority has to receive the most votes. The most votes is a pretty important concept. Three candidates is how Minnesota had to deal with Jesse Ventura for four years. Three candidates is how Maine became stuck with Paul LePage twice. And why do I have to remind any so-called “political junkie” that three candidates was how we got George W. Bush as president, twice. Also, for all of your whining, political parties are the ultimate democratic institutions. They’re organic, in that they represent the politics and views of the people who populate them. If they’re not doing something you want them to do, it’s either because you’re not there, or you’ve been outnumbered. The solution isn’t to abandon the party and make demands from the outside. Instead, join the party and influence it from the inside. If it seems as if the Democratic Party moved right, that’s because a certain group of progressives largely abandoned party politics in favor of screaming at it like insane people. All of these “smart” pro lefties actually scream at the system while the “ignorant” right wingers actually work from inside the GOP and run rings around us, politically. How’s that feel, knowing that right wingers play politics better than us? It pisses me off, why not you?
Truth #2 – Political parties will never try to “attract your vote” by appealing to you.
I know you’ve heard it. “Well, if ‘the Democrats’ want my vote, they’ll have to (insert desired action here). If they don’t (insert desired action here), I’ll vote for (insert the name of some obscure candidate who can say anything he wants because he knows he won’t win here).”
I hate to break it to you, but that’s no threat. For such a thing to be seen as a threat, politicians would have to be able to count on the votes of unicorn progressives and on the unerring support of the professional left. Unfortunately, unicorn progressives tend to not vote and, when they do, they “vote their conscience,” which undermines their power. There’s a reason why Democrats work so hard for black and Hispanic voters, while they don’t alter their message to appeal to whiny white liberals. People of color are not stupid, you are.
Truth #3 – If you’re a white progressive blogger or other far left pundit, you are probably NOT part of “the Democratic base.”
If you’re not registered as a Democrat, and you don’t loyally vote Democratic, then you are, by definition, NOT part of the Democratic Party’s “base.” If you voted for Nader once or you routinely hold out your vote as a cookie to “entice” Democrats to do what you want, you’re not the “base.” The Democratic base consists of people who can be counted upon to consistently vote for and always support Democrats, even if they have to occasionally hold their nose to do so. The Democratic base is a diverse group, and includes a large number of moderates. In fact, the Democratic base consists of mostly moderates, primarily because unicorn progressives and the professional left somehow have the idea that being a contrarian is an effective political strategy and they can’t be counted upon to vote for or support anyone consistently. Not only is that the dumbest strategy possible, but it makes them completely unreliable. Who asks an unreliable person to do anything.
That said, the vast majority of actual progressives are part of the Democratic base, such as people of color, minorities, feminists, LGBT activists, union members. Unfortunately, the pundits and bloggers and others on the professional left and the unicorn progressives who complain the loudest about Democrats “abandoning their base” are white and think they know everything. Unicorn progressives should be part of the base because the Democratic Party treats their actual base really well.
Truth #4 – Not all progressives think like you, and your ideas are not the only ones that work.
One of the best things about being a progressive is the diversity of opinion on our side. Right wingers think in lockstep because they can’t tolerate diversity of opinion and they need validation. On the other hand, most progressives can disagree without the disagreement itself becoming a major issue. Demanding that everyone in a group think the same way is a sure sign of weak minds. Unfortunately, an obnoxious number of (primarily white) progressives are far too quick to negatively label those who disagree with them. They don’t listen to differing viewpoints and they are dismissive of opinions that don’t conform with theirs, exactly.
Put simply, an increasing number of left wing pundits sound an awful lot like right wingers.
I am constantly attacked by self-described “progressives” because I care more about getting the country where it needs to be than constantly obsessing over how we get there. It’s frustrating because progressives with the strongest and loudest opinions have become the greatest obstacles to progress we face and it’s killing the country slowly.There’s a tendency to blame the right for everything, but they can only effect their policies when they win elections. Stop allowing that and we win. There is rarely only one way to solve a problem and there is never only one way to view an issue. Being intransigent and strident is no more appealing coming from our side.
Truth #5 – Fighting is overrated. Most voters want discussion and action.
You’ve heard these a lot over five years, I’m sure: “Why doesn’t Obama fight?” and “Why don’t ‘the Democrats’ have a spine?”
Let me disabuse you people of something. Republicans love a fight and they thrive on the red meat thrown at them on a regular basis. But most voters don’t want to see a fight. They hope to elect politicians to get things done, not to have temper tantrums and call names.
Again, the Republican strategy is discourage voters from showing up at the polls. They say and do stupid things in part because they know that many liberals think “fighting” is effective political strategy and they hope we’ll react. They hope that we’ll blow another non-issue up all out of proportion, thus moving the debate away from issues that actually matter. When far lefties talk about “fighting” and being just like the right, it’s because they believe that being negative is what wins Republicans elections. However, the only way the minority Republicans can win elections is by making sure their base turns out, while they depress turnout for everyone else.
Note: President Obama won by a large margin, despite his race, because he REFUSED to go negative. Hillary went negative and lost. This year, Hillary did not go negative and won. Get it? Only Republicans win by going negative and only in their primaries. Republicans don’t win general elections, we lose.
Truth #6 – We can’t get progressive policies in place without winning elections. and Truth #7 – We can’t have a progressive country until we create a progressive mindset.
These two truths are intertwined. We live in a democracy. Therefore, while many liberals have come to believe that being popular is the same as having “sold out,” the fact is, only those who get elected get to make law and policy. That means we have to appeal to a majority, which means adjusting our message to appeal to a broader audience. That means speaking to people in a language that they understand. We have to speak to people, not yell at them. We have to teach them why what we believe is actually the best. It’s not enough to teach them Republicans suck. Most know that going in.
The reason we keep losing is because there’s a knowledge vacuum, and we don’t fill it with anything. When right wingers say “climate change is a hoax, it’s not enough to say, “no it isn’t.” That won’t get people to ditch their cars and put solar panels on their roof. When right wingers say “illegal aliens are taking our jobs,” it’s not enough to simply deny it. We have to offer positive alternate visions of how we can fix these problems. Stop talking to Republicans, and speak to the American people. And, of course, our side must stop calling people stupid when they don’t do what we think they should do.
Truth #8 – If we want to get elected and have influence over policy, people have to like us.
It’s a sad fact that many voters don’t like progressives. And no, it’s not because right wingers have trashed the name. That can’t happen without our acquiescence. Most voters don’t like us because our loudest segment is always whining about how horrible everything is, which dovetails nicely with the right wing message. Unicotine progressives are much like right wingers, in that they always talk about problems, but they rarely talk about solutions. Either that, or they become so wedded to one solution that they dismiss, or even ridicule, those with different ideas.
Voters don’t want to hear us reiterate all of their problems, they want solutions. They want to elect people who seem competent enough to solve problems as they come up. We have to fix what we’re doing to the environment, but the solution is not to junk every internal combustion engine and replace it with an electric motor within the next few years. It would be nice to see “banksters” lined up and frog marched to trial, but the fact is, most voters don’t care. They do, however, care that unemployment stay low and they’d like to be able to buy a house when they’re making enough money.
Liberals have a reputation as being anti-everything, and the vast majority of voters want to vote FOR something. To win, progressives have to give them more hope, and stress competence over our petulant positions on issues.
Truth #9 – Proclamations of “voting your conscience” are simultaneously meaningless and insulting.
Voting for a third party, or voting for anyone who has no chance of winning election is a waste of a vote. To believe otherwise is irrational. Again, only those who win get to make policy. And when you proclaim that you “voted your conscience,” you need to understand how arrogant you sound and how insulting you sound to others. Most people “vote their conscience,” and that includes right wingers. Anti-choicers are “voting their conscience” just as much as any progressive when they vote. And anti-gay marriage folks are also “voting their conscience,” as they see it, as do those who want to continue and expand the drug war.
Telling people you “voted your conscience” is meaningless, but it also indicates a self-centeredness that is another reason many people don’t like liberals. What is best for you is not necessarily best for the country. As progressives, we want to see the country move forward, but that isn’t happening when you vote for candidates who can’t possibly win. As a progressive, my conscience pushes me to move the country in a progressive direction – for everyone. Call me crazy, but that precludes me from voting for anyone with no chance of winning. My conscience tells me my vote is better used to support the viable candidate with the best chance of being part of a majority that is most likely to pass legislation and promote policy that helps the most people. Sometimes, that means voting for someone I don’t like. That’s just how it goes. No one said democracy was easy. There is never a smorgasbord of available candidates. You get the two chosen by the democratic process, which will always be a Democrat and a Republican.
Truth #10 – There is no such thing as “the Democrats,” at least as many on the left see it.
We didn’t lose in 2010 and 2014 because voters are “stupid.” We lost because we spent our time complaining because Barack Obama and “the Democrats” didn’t perform miracles. Unicorn progressives have spend eight years whining about “the Democrats” being spineless and not doing everything they wanted and they did so despite the fact that everyone should have known that it would take more than two years to undo eight years of Bush. In reality, 375 bills were passed by “the Democrats” in the House, and kept from being held up for a vote by either 40 or 41 Republicans in the Senate. Yet, the unicorn progressives have denigrated “the Democrats” for eight years.
There’s no such thing as “the Democrats.” Democrats represent all sorts of districts throughout this country, and Democrats in rural Kentucky have different priorities than those in Boston or New York. If you were “happy” when “Blue Dogs” lost, you misunderstand how politics works. At this point in time, it’s impossible to win a progressive majority in Congress and most state houses, which means we have to settle for Democratic majorities containing as may progressives as possible. It is not a good thing when a Blue Dog loses. In fact, it’s a very bad thing. Every Blue Dog the pro let purged lost to a Tea Party member. That’s not progressive. You can’t spin that into anything progressive. That is regressive.
At some point way in the future we may end up with a progressive majority, but not until we change the mindset of the country, so that progressive politics feels natural. For now, we have to deal with what we have, not what we wish we had. That means supporting Democrats, and making sure they always have a majority, at least for a while.