Ten Truths EVERY Progressive Should Embrace for 2014 and Beyond

Albert Einstein once defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” 

He also said, “Man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.”

Einstein was a really smart guy, and not just about math and physics. 

Progressives have been on the outside of the poltical system looking in for 32 years now. At what point does the most vocal segment of our ideology actually reassess their overall strategy and change it, based on the obvious fact that it's not working? 

It's simple, really. We live in a democracy, and we don't make up a majority on our own. But the only people who get to make policy are those who get elected and hold a majority. So, what do you think we need to do be successful in this democracy?

Get elected, right? Get a majority, right? 

That so many otherwise intelligent progressives don't seem to understand this basic reality is cringeworthy. Right wingers took over a major political party, and then won election after election, in part because a significant number of liberals was off on our own quest for perfection. So, why are we surprised when the government they run does really bad things? When so many progressives leave the Democratic Party to become "independents" or "other," why are so many shocked and surprised when they move right, politically? 

If your "politics" causes you to value your own personal "ideals" ahead of political success, you're part of the reason there's a problem. The Founding Fathers had ideals, but they also knew they had to drum up popular support to make those ideals happen. They also knew that societal changes take time, hard work and political will. 

There is only one route to political success in a democracy; you have to win elections. It's not about knowing more about minutiae than most other people, and it's not about voting for people who say all of the "right" things (translation: things that you have decided are "important"), even if they have no chance of winning. 

Some "progressives" think Barack Obama was elected wizard, not president. While it's fun to laugh at the right wingers who claim "liberals" saw President Obama as some sort of "savior," the level of perfection that many "progressives" apparently expect of the President gives that view more than a bit of credence. 

We had momentum after 2008. We had a shot at getting rid of the right wing once and for all. But almost as soon as President Obama took office, they started after him, for not immediately reversing all things Bush and throwing everyone we didn't like in jail. They imagined that Obama and the (non-existent) Democratic supermajority would immediately reverse everything, and take us back to pre-Reagan standards, at the same time they restored the economy to it's pre-Bush state. It was going to be utopia. 

For two years, they whined and complained, referring to Obama as a "disappointment
and to the Democrats as "spineless." They targeted "Blue Dog" conservative Democrats because they weren't "pure" enough, and blamed them for the fact that so much progressive legislation failed to make it to the president's desk, rather than the Republican Senators who filibustered everything that moved. No Democrat helped Republicans block a bill at that time, but to hear this subset of "progressives" tell it, you – and more importantly, swing voters – would think they were responsible for all of it. 

There was a simple solution to the problem in 2010; fewer Republican Senators. If Democrats had kept the House, and gained 2-3 seats in the Senate, there would be many fewer filibusters, and the backlog of great legislation would have been broken. There also would have been no Speaker Boehner, no bills to kill Medicare and Obamacare, the 112th Congress would have been far more productive, the economy would be far better and the Obama reelection would have been a veritable landslide. In short, while they were complaining about how bad things were, they were about to make things worse. 

What happened in 2010 was a disaster. If you see a "bright side" in the fact that Blue Dogs lost a bunch of seats, give the rest of us a break. There is no "bright side" to defeating conservative Democrats and replacing them with teabaggers. 

In 2014 and beyond, progressives simply cannot afford another 2010. To move forward, we need to understand some basics. Here are ten basic truths that should become second nature, if we're to become a political force, and turn the United States into a progressive nation that cares about its people and its society.

Truth #1 – In a winner-take-all democracy, two viable political parties is rare and should be treasured. Three viable political parties is pure fantasy.

If you doubt this, name one other non-parliamentary democracy that has two strong major political parties. In nearly 240 years of US history, when have we ever had three viable political parties? 

As is usually the case with politics in a democratic system, the barrier is basic math.

Based on the most accurate statistics available (keep in mind, 21 states don't allow voter registration by party), approximately 39% of registered voters are Democrats and 31% are Republican, while 30% are independent or "third party." In a winner-take-all system, there are no winners with 30%. And since such voters can be extremely right wing, extremely left wing, or too moderate for either party, there isn't exactly a consensus among that group. 

It also means 30% of the electorate has virtually no influence over the major party electoral process. If you make up, say, 10% of the electorate, does it make the most sense, politically speaking; to sell your own message to a majority as an outsider, or to get inside a major party apparatus and change things from within? The answer has to be obvious. 

Political parties are the ultimate democratic institutions. They're organic, meaning they represent the politics of the people who populate them and areactiv within them. If they're not doing something you want them to do, it’s because you’re either not there, or you’ve been outnumbered. The reason the Democratic Party moved rightward is because many liberals left it. If you want the Democratic Party to move left, join and move it left  Attend meetings and vote. You won't get everything you want, but that’s the nature of democracy.

Truth #2 – Political parties will never try to "attract your vote" by appealing to you, specifically, unless you're part of their "base."

I know you’ve heard it. “If ‘the Democrats’ want my vote, they’re going to have to (insert desired action here). If they don’t (insert desired action here), then I won’t vote, or 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).”

No one but the person who says that sees such a statement as a threat. For such a statement to be a threat, politicians would normally have to be able to count on your vote in the first place. The far right will vote for anyone who calls themselves a "Republican" in nearly every election. When they're mad and stay home, Republicans know they're in trouble. That’s how it's supposed to work. If you vote for Democrats in every election, then withhold your vote, they know something is wrong and they appeal to you to get you back. That's why Democrats take minorities and women seriously, but they tend to roll their eyes as loud white liberals. 

The loudest group of progressives rarely vote, and when they do, they often vote “their conscience,” which means voting for someone with no chance of winning.

Truth #3 – Professional lefties and those who think like them are NOT “the Democratic base.”

Unless you're a Democrat – meaning you're active in the Democratic Party and/or can be counted on to vote Democratic most of the time – you are simply not the "Democratic base.”  You don't get to call yourself part of the "base" just because your issue positions are closer to Democrats than Republicans. Actions speak louder than words, after all.

The Democratic base is a diverse group, and includes a large number of moderates, as well as a sprinkling of progressives. What it doesn't contain are "progressives" who complain more about "Blue Dogs" than far right wing Republicans. It doesn't contain "progressives" who refer to any moderate or conservative Democrat with whom they disagree as a "low information voter" or worse, "stupid."

Truth #4 – Not even all progressives think like you, and your ideas are not the only ones that work.

Being progressive is about championing a diversity of opinion. Right wingers are supposed to be the ones who think in lockstep, because they need validation for their nutty opinions. Progressives used to be able to disagree without the disagreement itself becoming a major issue.

These days, reading and listening to the loudest progressives` discuss issues, they sound very much like right wingers. They're just as quick to lambast those who disagree with them, they don’t listen well to differing viewpoints, and they are increasingly dismissive of any opinion that doesn’t conform to theirs.

I am a progressive, and I believe in progressive principles as much as any professional lefties. (Check out this article as an example.) But I'm often referred to as a "centrist," with the term intended to be pejorative. How progressive can you really be, if you can't see a difference between centrists and right wingers, or if you think that slagging moderates, who make up a large majority of the electorate, is a winning political strategy? 

If you want to win a majority of the electorate – and why would you not? – you don't make demands and dictate terms. No one is always right, and no one's point of view is always right. There is never one right way to do anything, especially when it comes to politics. There are often many potential solutions to a problem, and most political solutions come as a result of a sort of fusion of many ideas into one. Making progress usually takes many minds and many visions to come up with something that works. Medicare and Social Security did not become what they are in one bill. 

Never forget; politics is the art of compromise. Every political solution will include elements from all sides of the issue, not just the liberal side. If you're worried that so many laws have leaned so far right, then stop screaming and start participating.

And stop treating every "progressive" notion you have as if you were a dog and it was your favorite chew toy. When you start, stop yourself and listen for a change. Open your mind; you might actually learn something from a "centrist." 

Truth #5 – Fighting is overrated. Most voters want discussion and action.

“Why doesn’t Obama fight?”

“Why don’t ‘the Democrats’ have a spine?"

The number one strategy for the Republican Party in any campaign is to depress turnout, because they're a minority party and it's the only way they can win. Everything Republicans do is designed to make the average voter feel depressed, hate politics and want to stay home. That's why right wingers love any other right winger who slings mud at a "liberal." And they love it even more when the liberal fights back, because they like getting under our skins, and because they know the average voter hates a fight, and are more likely to  stay home on Election Day. 

President Obama doesn't fight with them openly, and is always polite to them, because that's how he gets support for what he wants to do. When the right trashes him, and he doesn't respond in kind, he doesn't look "weak," that's a right wing mindset at work. He actually looks strong and he looks like he's working for the American people. And he encourages people to turn out and vote, because they have faith in him. 

When lefties talk about getting down and dirty and being just like the right, it’s because they believe that being negative is what wins Republicans elections. But we think differently. When liberals are negative back, it's a loser for our side. We have a majority behind us, if we just knew how to use them. We need to fight FOR issues, not against right wingers. That means being positive and hopeful, not negative and constantly complaining. 

Truth #6 – We can’t get progressive policies in place without winning elections. 

If this isn't obvious by now, head to the nearest community college and sign up for a Civics 101 course. Only those who win elections get to make laws and regulations. Those who say all of the right things, but end up with 1% of the vote have absolutely no say in making policy. Those who come in second because they're "Blue Dogs" and not worthy of a progressive vote get to go home, while the Tea Party favorite gets to go to Washington and vote for 34 bills to repeal Obamacare.

That's just reality. In a democratic system, if you're not winning, you have no influence in making policy. How many more years must progressives be in the political wilderness before the loudest of us figure this out?

And forget this notion that you're "sending a message" with your vote. No one even remembers the second-place finisher a month after the election, let alone the candidate who got 1% of the vote. And if they don't remember the candidate, what "message" do you think they're going to remember? 

The only time you're "sending a message" is when you vote for the winner and then try to influence their votes on various bills. Otherwise, you're sending a delusion. 

Truth #7 – We can’t have a progressive country until we create a progressive mindset.

Some of the loudest progressives hate being popular, They think being popular among the public at large makes one a "sell out." And that, in a nutshell, is why progressives are always on the outside looking in.

Again, to make policy, you have to get elected to office, and that means you must appeal to as many voters as possible. That means tailoring our message for a broad audience, and speaking to voters in a language they understand. We have to teach people why what we believe is actually best, not simply point out that right wingers are nuts. Most swing voters already know right wingers are nuts.  The problem is, they think we're nuts, too. There's a political knowledge vacuum in this country, becaus right wingers scream, and we scream back, so no actual information gets out. We lose elections because we don’t fill the knowledge vacuum. When right wingers scream, “global warming is a myth," screaming a reply of “no it isn’t” won't get people to ditch their gas guzzler and replace their light bulbs. When right wingers scream, “illegal aliens are taking our jobs,” it’s not sufficient to simply scream back that they're "racist" or "liars." We actually serve ourselves better when we propose solutions. Voters want to vote FOR something. 

Stop talking to the right wing and start talking to the American people, and we can become popular, win elections and change the country. Screaming back at right wingers, and gainsaying arguments makes us unpopular, and gives them the win.  

Truth #8 – If we want to get elected and make policy, people have to like us.

It’s a sad fact that a lot of people think liberals are  whiny idiots. And are they wrong? Look at our bloggers, pundits and the like. We seem to always be outraged about something. We're too often negative. The right sucks. Fox News sucks. The environment sucks. The rich suck. “The Democrats” suck. Cars suck. Anyone who doesn’t think exactly as we do sucks. And most of what outrages us doesn't even faze the average American. Yet, we don't seem to notice, because we're so enamored with our own outrage that we think everyone feels that way. 

Go to a bunch of liberal blogs, and Twitter and Facebook, and count the number of “doom and gloom” statements and posts made by many progressives, and you'd swear the government was being overrun by fascists and “corporatists,” that the climate is going to cause the destruction of the earth, and other shit like that. What's missing are solutions, especially those that don’t require everyone to change everything about their life.

We have to be realistic. We're not going to be able to rid the country of all guns to fix the gun problem. We're not going to get every American to abandon their gas-powered cars for electrics, and put solar panels on the roof tomorrow. We can't solve the immigration problem by denying there's a problem. We can't undo the excesses of the Bush Administration in one presidential term, especially when we helped elect a right wing majority to the House in 2010. We can't throw most "banksters" in jail, because most of what they did wasn't illegal. That was the problem, after all. 

Progressives have to ditch our anti-everything reputation.  The vast majority of voters want to vote FOR something. Voters didn’t vote against McCain and Romney. They voted for the hope that Obama represents. They voted for competence and vision; they didn’t vote to break up the big banks, so that you would feel satisfied. We are all in this together, and any solution to any problem must balance all relevant realities, not just the ones you think are important.

Truth #9 – Proclamations of “voting your conscience” are simultaneously meaningless and insulting.

Voting for someone who has no chance of winning election does not constitute “voting your conscience.” It's a waste of a vote. You might as well just vote Republican. Calling it a vote for conscience is also something of an insult. 

MOST people vote their conscience, because they vote in favor of the candidates and causes they think will most benefit the country.  And yes, that includes right wingers. It's their "conscience" that won't allow them to vote "Democrat," ever.

If a progressive wants the country to move forward, they have to vote for someone who has the ability to make that happen. A good conscience could never allow a vote for someone incapable of making this country better. Yet, and that’s what you’re doing when you vote for, or even promote, a candidate with no chance of winning.

Such an act also demonstrates a galling level of gullibility. Think about it; if someone knows they have no chance of winning, they can say anything they want. Since they’ll never take office, they’ll never have to deliver. A candidate can cruise the liberal blogs and cull ideas guaranteed to get tons of liberal votes and liberal money, and none of it will matter, because they’ll never have to act on any of it.

On the other hand, a liberal with a conscience has to vote for the candidate most likely to move us in a progressive direction. Sometimes, that means voting for someone who's not actually fully progressive; no one said democracy was easy. But if your vote for a Blue Dog replaces John Boehner with Nancy Pelosi and places a progressive in the chairmanship of Ways and Means, the vote is a progressive one. 

Truth #10 – “The Democrats” are not the problem. The problem is "the Republicans." And both Parties are NOT "the same."

Progressives lost everything in 2010 because a small-but-loud minority of us spent two years complaining that Barack Obama wasn’t the Messiah, and their imagined promise of a unicorn turned out "only" to be a pony.  They complained incessantly that “the Democrats” were "spineless," because they didn't pass everything they could. Despite the fact that 375 bills were passed by “the Democrats” in the House and blocked by 40-41 of "the Republicans" in the Senate, using an abused filibuster, this elite group of minds spent two years trashing "the Democrats." 

There is no such thing as “the Democrats.” Democrats represent all sorts of districts, and diverse groups of people and views. Understand, “the Democrats” in rural Kentucky have different priorities than “the Democrats” in Boston, New York or Montana. If you are “happy” that “Blue Dogs” lost, you're actually a major reason why progressives have to fight to be noticed, even though there are more of us as than right wingers.  Without conservative Democrats, it's impossible for the Democratic Party to win a majority, since there aren't currently 218 or more progressive districts.  At some point in the future we may have that. But after 32 years of right wing domination of the discussion, it'll take a lot of work. At his moment in time, if we want progressives in charge of committees, and you want progressive bills to make it to the floors of the House and Senate,  we need a majority. Promoting Blue Dogs is how you get the right people in charge. 

And can we once and for all make clear that there is zero similarity between the two major political parties at this point in time? And I mean none. While the Democratic Party has moved somewhat to the right, the GOP has been completely radicalized. They've been coopted by right wing extremists, to the point that a right winger like John Boehner seems like a moderate. Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan would be kicked out of today's GOP. The Tea Party has been dictating the course of the Republican House, and there is nothing nice about these people. 

If you can come up with one Blue Dog who would make a great modern Republican, you have a very good imagination. 

The problem with our system is a radicalized Republican Party. If you can't see that, then you're not "progressive," you're blind. And if you think the solution to our political morass is getting rid of conservative Democrats, then you don't understand our problems at all.  If you would bother to look at the problems we have, the solution is simple; get rid of Republicans. It's not a complicated code that needs deciphering by a crack team of codebreakers with blogs. The problems are easily solved; unelect Republicans. 

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  1. “Truth #7 – We can’t have a progressive country until we create a progressive mindset.”
    It’s the easy way out to diss Obama for not being ‘Progressive enough’ ~ rather, the real challenge is to create an electorate who supports the Progressive agenda you desire. If you can’t get enough people behind your agenda, then you’re not going to win elected seats to make that agenda happen.

  2. President Obama doesn’t fight with them openly, and is always polite to them, because that’s how he gets support for what he wants to do.
    The problem perceived with Obama is the one of lack of fighting FOR his stated or implied values. Based on his lack of effort (i.e. always giving in more than half-way even before beginning the negotiations with the other side), he is a Blue Dog. The problem largely seems to be one where he is unwilling to start the fight from a progressive position. Instead, he seems to start it mid-point between his own “realistic” (not necessarily ideological) hopes and the wishfully sane projection of the Republican position (not the true ugly and inconsistent position of non-compromise).
    If you can come up with one Blue Dog who would make a great modern Republican, you have a very good imagination.
    The problem is not that they are what the current Republicans are. It is quite enough that they are something akin to the ’90s and ’00s Republicans, which is also what the Republicans purport themselves to be. The remaining sanity is fleeing (and has fled) the Republican party to become Blue Dog Democrats, which effects a depressive political landscape constantly moving to the right. This landscape leaves very little room for any leftists or progressives unless they are willing to fight for their own ideology – even against the Blue Dogs – because it appears as growing support for the Republican ideology as a whole (and particularly in the Democratic party).

  3. You are smart, Isaac, and I wish I could afford to pay you to write on this blog. (I think you’re still on the list.) And you’re writing is top notch. I’m getting better, but I have a way to go.
    I’m in Denver now. You should stop on by…

  4. Very clear, rational, and pragmatic thinking and expression.
    I wish other people reading this had the opportunity to discuss this in person with you, as I had the occasion to do once, Milt. I walked away with some things to think about, and my opinions did change somewhat as a result. And I’m someone who is constantly told how “smart” I am.
    The point that winning elections is of primary importance is one you’ve been hammering on as long as I’ve known you, and one I wish more progressives understood. And it seems that “compromise is a dirty word” is a belief among too many on my side, not just far right wingers.
    I could go on but won’t. I’ll just say that this another one you hit out of the park, another nail you hit squarely on the head. If I was in charge, this would be required reading for everyone on the left.
    And people tell me they like *my* writing–I think I’ll keep this and point it at those people as an example of someone who *really* can write. The only real writing instruction I ever got was the saying “good writing is clear thinking made visible.” That’s what this was, in spades. I hope we can meet again, and soon.

  5. Think about it; if someone knows they have no chance of winning, they can say anything they want. Since they’ll never take office, they’ll never have to deliver. A candidate can cruise the liberal blogs and cull ideas guaranteed to get tons of liberal votes and liberal money, and none of it will matter, because they’ll never have to act on any of it.
    Milt this is a very good point. I heard many educated and informed liberal friends talking about support clowns like Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson or (what the hell are you smoking) Gary Johnson. After a while, I just stop paying attention to their post on FB and Twitter. We’re still friends – but I don’t think they’re really serious about change, because continually supporting political theater or politics isn’t a sign of maturity.
    I saw parts of that Larry King third party debate and sat throw two democracy now “shadow debates” (i.e. Amy Goodman had the Anderson and Stein troll Obama and Romney ala Mystery Science Theater).
    In all those cases – there was little in the form of a plan or platform – just a serious of niche talking points. As you pointed out – all of these clowns know no one would take them seriously or ever give such inexperienced, purist cranks the levers of power – so they’re free to blow smoke up the Left’s and Libertarian’s collective asses because they can’t be held to account.
    Of course Stein and Anderson can wax poetically about ending wars and giving everyone free healthcare without actually defining how to get it done (like Obama and Romney before the Tea Party castrated him) – because they’ll never been in a position where they have to deliver. Gary Johnson and Ron Paul can talk about how drone attacks are unconstitutional, since the Libertarian solution is just to hire Blackwater to fight our wars. Krugman, Nader and Chomsky can tell all these Emo-Progressives how Obama should taken over the banks, because they won’t ever be in a position to actually convince Congress open the checkbook and take on massive amounts of consumer debt and expose the US Treasury to the shenanigans of BOA and Chase (Krugman”>Krugman told the world on HuffPo that he’d run away screaming if Obama offered him Geithner’s job)
    Its easy to talk that Purist Progressive Nonsense when no one will hold you accountable later on.

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