I guess I'll never understand this quest for political perfection that so many liberals seem to think is so appealing. The most imperfect Republican politicians in our history have been holding down the fort for the better part of 40 years; at what point do we figure out we're doing something wrong? If we're so pure of heart, righteous and virtuous, and that is what makes us worthy of winning elections, why do we keep losing?
The answer is clear, if you're willing to listen to it. Right wing Republicans are willing to accept less than perfect from their point of view, while we most certainly are not.
Let me re-state that. MOST liberals get it, and are willing to accept imperfection. A small but significant number of liberals refuse to accept anything less than perfection, despite the fact that perfect liberals have never had a majority in any national political body in our history. For all of the lionization of FDR, JFK and even LBJ by such progressives, none of those men could win an election these days, because these people would never encourage anyone to vote for them.
If you've ever seen the classic film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” then you'll remember the scene in which the owner of Swamp Castle describes how he built it. The first two castles sank into the swamp, of course, as castles built on swamps are wont to do. But the third one, by God, stayed up (so far), quite possibly because it was sitting on the first two sunken castles.
Go ahead and laugh, because it's funny. But there's also a lesson there. If you want to build something that lasts (and if you call yourself a progressive, that is exactly what you're supposed to do), you can’t ignore the foundation upon which it’s built. And for about 40 years now, the right wing has built one hell of a swamp.
I understand idealism, and share the ideals of 99% of progressives. There is actually a place for ideals in the body politic, albeit in the background. But if you share my desire to build a great progressive movement in this country, you must realize a couple of things. We can’t do it quickly; it takes years. We also can’t do it without paying attention to the foundation that is in place. I understand wanting something great. But since when has anyone in a democracy gotten anything just because they wanted it? If you are really progressive, and want to build a society on truly progressive values, you will do whatever you have to do, in order to get it. Or, as my grandmother used to say, wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up first.
If you want something, but are not willing to do whatever is necessary to get it, it's difficult to justify labeling yourself "progressive." The root word is "progress." Think about it.
Our side has been politically negligent for at least 40 years, and for 32 years, a neocon minority has had control of a large portion of the government, while progressives have marched and filled the Internet with as many opinions as they dared, while largely ignoring the process. They have chosen to stand outside the process and make demands, while they support and vote for people with no chance of winning, calling it “principled.” This same small but loud group of progressives also chooses to scream far louder at Democratic candidates than they do at Republicans, who should be natural nemeses.
Let's be clear; we will never make progressive inroads, as long as there are enough Republicans in Congress to block any actual progress. Period. That has to be our main goal first. After Democrats have a supermajority for a while, then we can work on perfecting the Democratic Party. Until then, even attempting to attain perfection can't even be on the table, because the current Republican Party won't allow it.
Of course, the most progressive "perfection" we can hope for is perhaps 10-20%. We'll never actually be looking at 80-100%, because that's how democracy works. Both sides make their case, and the result will always be just a little bit left or right of center. And even that much will take a lot of hard work. The right wing took over a major political party, and they've held onto a disproportionate share of government for an entire generation, mostly because of a lack of a positive message that should have been coming from our side all along.
That’s the foundation we have to work with, folks. A few decades ago, a relatively small but significant number of progressives decided to abandon the system we have, and opted to shout at it from outside, rather than move it from the inside. In the process, they allowed the right wing to create a really big swamp. Our only choice at this time is for progressives to band together and build a foundation on that swamp.
There is no magic potion that will make the country progressive by sheer force of will. If you want to build a progressive nation, in which an Alan Grayson can win the First District of South Carolina over a Mark Sanford, it can be done. But it will take a lot of time, and a lot of work from inside the system. There are no shortcuts, and our ideals cannot be met by sheer force of will. Nothing will change simply because you want it. You have to play politics the way the game is played.
Consider this; the most progressive time in US history was the 1960s. That's because Democrats had a supermajority for the entire decade, and progressives were largely working from inside the party. We started to lose it in 1968, when the far left decided to go after Democrats at their convention, letting Richard Nixon win. Since then, with far left progressives on the outside shouting at the system, the left has been losing. People aren't voting for Republicans because they like them; they're staying home because they hate the right wing message, but there is no other message being propagated. Look at turnout. In the 1950s and 1960s, overall turnout in presidential years was 60%, while off-years were around 50%. Since the mid-1970s, turnout has been mostly around 50% in presidential years, and less than 40% in off-years. That we lose is not coincidence.
We need to do a few things. All progressives need to rejoin the Democratic Party, to amplify our voice. We have to focus more on our message and less on the right wing. And we have to encourage everyone to vote, by giving them something to vote for. We will also need a lot of patience; it'll be a while. We have to understand that the right wing has built a hell of a swamp in four decades. That much propaganda will take years to overcome.
We cannot skip steps. Nothing else can happen until we push the right wing back to the fringes, where they belong. For the next 4-5 election cycles, and maybe more, we have to vote for and support every Democrat we can, unless they're extremely repulsive, like a David Duke or a Lyndon LaRouche. When the right wingers start losing big, the GOP will clean house. That will cause a lot of Blue Dogs to re-join the Republican Party, which is bad for the short-term, but great for the long term. Meanwhile, the whole time, we're offering a positive message and attracting voters.
All progressives will also have to join the Democratic Party and work to change the politics from within. Political parties reflect their membership. If it seems as if the Democratic Party has moved to the right, well, that’s what happens when liberals leave the party. “If they want me back, they’ll have to earn my vote” is the single dumbest concept in democratic politics. That simply doesn't happen.
Politics isn't about issues, it's about doing whatever is necessary to effect policy and make laws that better people’s lives. If you’re not appealing to the most voters in a bid to win every election, you're not making progress. And like it or not, the right wing has built a hell of a large swamp in more than 40 years, and that is what we have to build on.