Summer Rerun: Why Is the Left Slice of the Democrats Getting Crushed?

This post first ran on April 11, 2012

By Matt Stoller, who writes for Salon and has contributed to Politico, Alternet, Salon, The Nation and Reuters. You can reach him at stoller (at) or follow him on Twitter at @matthewstoller

“I’m flabbergasted. I’m embarrassed. This is the biggest screw-up electorally that I’ve ever been involved in,” said one progressive activist still sorting through the wreckage.

“Why Ilya Sheyman And Progressives Lost Big In Illinois’ 10th District Primary”, Huffington Post

“Delaney defeated state Sen. Rob Garagiola, 54 percent to 29 percent, in the Democratic primary. The result is notable since most people believe Democrats in Annapolis drew the district with Garagiola in mind and the legislator enjoyed support from organized labor, progressive groups, and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Rothenberg Political Report

At this point, even Moveon members won’t vote for self-proclaimed progressive candidates.  And labor and DC liberals can’t deliver votes, but money can.  Those are the lessons that insiders are drawing from two important but little noted Congressional primaries that happened late last month, one in Illinois and one in Maryland.

Politics is a game of proxy fights.  In contested political conventions, for instance, the question of the party platform is often used to test political strength, so various factions know their strength when it comes to a later contest on party nominations.  Party primaries are not political conventions, but the stakes are high.  They are about which faction in the party is going to take the governing reigns.  They are usually low-turnout affairs where only the party faithful shows up.  They are hard to poll, because the voting universe is unpredictable, but in many ways, primaries are far more important elections than general elections.  A primary can also be a proxy fight, something that other politicians watch to see if they have to watch their left or right flank when making policy.

The Illinois tenth saw such a proxy fight in late March, in a little watched Congressional primary in Illinois between a Democratic moderate, Brett Schneider, and a self-described progressive and former Obama campaign organizer, Ilya Sheyman.  Schneider, backed by the party establishment and officials such as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, defeated the 25 year old Sheyman, who had the backing of online liberal groups like DFA, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Moveon, and various labor unions.  Ilya lost by eight points after what looked like a substantial double lead in the polls, in a 62% blue district.

A similar primary took place in Maryland, between a prominent state politician backed by progressive institutional support (including Moveon and labor), Sen. Rob Garagiola, facing a self-funding anti-labor financier John Delaney.  Garagiola was utterly destroyed, by 25 points.

Both were brutal.  I won’t speak to Maryland, because that race involved an opaque Maryland establishment.  Illinois, though, is a little clearer, because the candidate originated from the “netroots”.  Turnout in the IL-10 district was 30,000 total, roughly half of what liberal organizers expected.  To give you a frame of reference, Moveon alone has 15,000 members in the district, which means that the online group simply could not turn out its own members to vote.  The Communications Workers of America were also involved, as was the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Democracy for America.  The PCCC was cheekily named after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and was designed to replicate and surpass the establishment’s campaign infrastructure, but use it on behalf of progressives.  DFA was an outgrowth of Howard Dean’s 2004 anti-war Presidential campaign, and Dean did endorse Sheyman.  These groups have millions of members collectively, can raise reasonably large sums of money, generate press, make TV ads, engage in direct mail campaigns, and recruit and run candidates.

Up until the election, all public polling had shown Sheyman leading by double digits, and Sheyman had outraised and out-enthused Schneider.  Sheyman had as his platform breaking up the banks, ending various wars, protecting Social Security and Medicare, and marriage equality.  He had worked at Moveon, and he proudly called himself a progressive, while attacking Schneider as a closet Republican who had given money to the GOP and voted in Republican primaries.  All of the talking points developed in the course of seven or eight years of internet Democratic politics – “bold progressive”, “people-power”, and “progressive” were on display.  He lost badly.

Yet in a similar Illinois district, a candidate named David Gill backed by a much smaller and less glamorous group – the Progressive Democrats of America – faced a similar dynamic.  He defeated the establishment candidate using a volunteer approach, and won his primary election.

This is an odd split – institutional DC self-described progressive groups with money and glitz – go straight into a buzz saw.  Since the highwater point of 2006, when progressives were able to defeat Joe Lieberman in a primary race in Connecticut (losing in the general election), the trend has been almost entirely downhill.  The outcome of their efforts to elect Obama, on a policy level, has been worse (and accelerating) inequality than that we saw under George W. Bush.  Americans decided to vote for the people who claimed to be progressive, and they got mostly the same thing they got under Bush, maybe a little worse.  In 2010, the swing against Democrats was severe.  I was working for Rep. Alan Grayson, and he lost by double digits after the state of Florida turned through no turnout on the Democratic side into a mini-version of Texas.

Inequality is the core of any economic policy framework, and that the Obama policy framework is essentially the same or worse than Bush’s on this matter is worth noting.  It impacts the electoral dynamic significantly, though it’s hard to figure out precisely how.  What happened in any election is always a guess, but there are at least three take-aways from the loss of these two candidates.

One, the internet Democrats who emerged in the post-Bush era simply do not know how to turn out votes, and they need to acknowledge and deal with this weakness.  It’s clear that there is a market for liberal-ish donors who want to support a political infrastructure that can compete in elections, and there is a media infrastructure available to communicate a message.  But the current crop of organizers, while entrepreneurial in some cases (PCCC) and heirs to the work of other innovators (CWA, Moveon), has not cracked the code.  There’s an operational element here.  Many operational problems came from really bad targeting and messaging that did not work.  Organizers need to acknowledge this, change leadership in some cases, and funders need to reorganize priorities around clear political accomplishments.  Additionally, political reporters should stop relying on the word of DC internet groups as the voice of “the left”.  If you can’t turn out your members to vote, then they aren’t really your members.

Two, the internet Democrats need to understand the basis of George Washington Plunkett politics, which is that votes come from getting voters turkeys at Christmas.  Voters want stuff, information on how to live their lives, increased incomes, a better world, tax cuts, the trash picked up regularly, whatever – and if you can’t credibly get it to them, your message is unpersuasive.  It’s not that your arguments don’t work, it’s that you aren’t a trusted messenger, and you can’t win in a low-trust fight because low trust channels are dominated by oligarchs.  This is why the failure of the internet progressive space to focus on wages or foreclosures from 2006-2010 was so catastrophic.  It’s why the fact that health care doesn’t kick in until 2014 carried significant political costs.  There simply is no progressive advantage on economic arguments anymore.  Sheyman laid out standard left-but-not-too-left policy prescriptions – reimplementing Glass-Steagall, lifting the Social Security cap on earnings, Medicare-for-All, gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan – and they didn’t work.  Why would one really junior member of Congress without any substantive record of accomplishment really matter?  Why would anyone trust the progressive brand on economics?

Three, internet-based Democrats have failed to find a way to introduce new ideas into the political process, but have been absorbed into the neoliberal policy apparatus.  Stark and clear ideological arguments, like decriminalizing drugs, just were not a part of the dialogue in this race.  That one serves a twofer, because it’s both a distinction of vision and something people can have from their politicians, ie. the right to do what they want with their bodies.  Then there was the question of American empire, which also did not come up explicitly.  Instead, Sheyman wrote a retrospective on the race in which he blamed his loss on a smear campaign by his opponent.  His opponent, Sheyman claimed, smeared him, arguing that Sheyman does not support apartheid-like policies by a right-wing government in Israel, but in fact, Sheyman claims, he does.  In other words, both candidates were stridently talking about how similar they were to each other.  Politically, this crippled Sheyman, because while he could talk about how progressive he was in the race, so could his opponent.  And there was no way to distinguish the two of them.  Both sounded like the same type of mainstream Democrat on substance, with one arguing he was more partisan and the other arguing he was less partisan.  New ideas are ways of creating distinctions, real frameworks by which to generate political power.  There weren’t any new ideas or litmus tests here.  So people, even Moveon members, picked the moderate sounding guy with a track record.  Or they didn’t vote.

It’s not obvious that this would have made an electoral difference, but what’s the point of risking a brutal loss when the only purpose for running is to have a slightly more partisan standard Democrat in office?  All in all, the version of progressivism built on anti-Bush feelings in the era from 2002-2008 just does yet not carry power, and its messaging is unpersuasive.  This could change, if the behavior of the leadership of these groups change.  If there is to be a counter to the drift towards radical inequality, it will not come from institutional DC-based progressives as long as these ostensibly groups support the politics of nothingness.  They must eventually integrate politics and what politics can deliver, or risk complete irrelevance.

There is a stirring of interestingness on the electoral front, which I’ll hopefully go into tomorrow.  It has to do with an unusual group of very local candidates working on foreclosure fraud.

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  1. windsock

    Barack Obama = Tony Blair. 2014 Democrats = NuLabour = Tory Lite. I thought we used to take our politics from the USA but it seems we have the drop on you (or maybe Tony Blair = Bill Clinton….)

    Anyway, sorry to be a pedant: ” interestingness”? Whatever happened to interest? (Please, no puns about it being nearly zero per cent!)

  2. bmeisen

    a flaw in the political system in the usa is its inability to sufficiently integrate political minorities. despite an overwhelmingly individualistic popular culture, the political system remains almost as majoritarian as it was in 1780, i.e. the minority is subordinate to the majority, as the individual is subordinate to the community. the american rejection of absolutism was not a triumph of the individual, rather a triumph of the democratic community within which the common good was the highest good. our rights as individuals are to be derived from our membership in the community. the system established to realize this relationship was an imperfect construction. its flaws could be ignored as long as the natural wealth of north america could be exploited by a relatively small and comparatively immobile population. not even the civil war produced a thorough reformation of the relationship between the minority and the majority.

    the virtues of integrating minorities can be seen in proportional parliamentary systems like sweden, austria, belgium and germany. individualism has catured the american imagination – the political system does not provide a mechanism to allow the diversity of political interests being expressed individually to be reflected in power relations. proportional systems provide minorities with access to power while in the usa, the political oligarchy of dem and rep centristism, represented so well by obama, goes to remarkable lengths to exclude minorities.

    1. Moneta

      We speak of individualism but t the same time, I’ve rarely met a group of people with such a tight set of ideas.

      A few years ago, a colleague’s sister (American) from came to town and borrowed her sister’s car. She loved the compact. Her sister asked why she did not get one and the American replied: “Are you kidding, everyone is going to think I’m poor!”.

      1. bmeisen

        one of the ideas in the tight set is that the american character embodies universal virtue. few amis express this belief consciously but it is there as an assumption, rooted in the rejection of absolutism and 2 centuries of easy exploitation of natural bounty.

      2. PaulArt

        When greed is the basis of organizing society then everyone measures each other by how big a house they own and how big a car they drive and how much money and stocks they own.

        1. LifelongLib

          There are plenty of Americans who don’t measure each other that way. Yet another stereotype of the sort that most of us here wouldn’t accept if someone said it about another country.

          1. Moneta

            Good point. But it was easy to differentiate the Argentine team from the German soccer team even if all players looked different.

            That’s the art of science… intuitively knowing when to consciously stereotype and when not to.

    2. human

      I see this as the crux of the matter. There were times when the US was much more politically active and diverse. In out current narrative (epoch/era) these third, fourth, fifth parties have been systematically castrated by The System (powers that be) to the point where we now have unjust laws regulating what is allowed to be a viable opposition party. Nevermind the fact that the radically left parties of old were infiltrated and dismantled from the inside out with the full power of a controlled MSM as accomplice. Think Red Scare and McCarthyism. Hell, even Howard Dean’s 50 State Agenda was co-opted and knee-capped by this administration. Remember, Capitalism can’t survive with unchecked competition. Ever wonder why hallucinogenic drugs are illegal? Can’t have the populace learning that there is an outside-the-box.

    3. impermanence

      “individualism has captured the american imagination…”

      Not individualism, but the idea of individualism.

      The notion that one can exist apart [yet prosper] is contrary to all that Nature teaches us. And, as is always the case, those who push this idea [in million different ways] are those who use the very opposite [social organization] to their personal benefit.

      It is the paradox of human intellectual existence, the longing to be free from that which keeps you alive.

      1. LifelongLib

        Individualism isn’t necessarily about existing apart. It can mean being the part that is truly who you are instead of the one you’re ground or hammered into, which is what happens to most of us. Granted that a lot of people who claim to be individualists only want it for themselves, or expect it to be accompanied by a great deal of money.

        1. impermanence

          How individual can one be in a Universe where its dimensions are as elastic as are our perceptions?

  3. Moneta

    The right has a clear message. When times are tough, people want black or white views. When the social net is non-existent, people look for comfort in the church.

    Progressives don’t even know who they are. Some want change to protect the environment, or to make things more fair but many more are the right in disguise…. they want change so they can make it in the 1% or comfortably stay there.

    1. Frances

      Messaging from the right is fear based, appeals to prejudices. Messaging from the left is more intellectually based: much more difficult to create influential strategies. Depends on the public’s understanding of context.

      1. susan

        The public’s understanding of context is wholly influenced by the Right side of the political equation, while the Left has conceded the entire enterprise of framing context to the Right, and even uses their language and addresses their issues on their terms. This is why it is impossible to influence a public that doesn’t have time to study political minutia. And it is wholly the fault of the Left for being too lazy to connect context to a more humane, left leaning agenda.

      2. bh2

        The messaging from the left is less fear-based than from the right? That’s truly one of the most droll comments ever posted. It’s also an enormous vanity.

        Partisan politics is all about fear, all of the time. One political brand is distinguished from another solely based on which specific fears it will play to as a gambit to secure the levers of power. It’s about nothing less and about nothing else.

    2. Lambert Strether

      “Progressives,” “liberals,” “the left”… There’s not even a name one can agree on, let alone a consistent set of beliefs. And as for policies? Fuggedaboutit.

    3. Bobbo

      Progressives would have more general appeal if the messengers would lighten up on the anti-religious militant atheism. That is where the intellectual class alienates itself from millions and millions of ordinary working people who in America tend to be quite religious by nature. The Left has pretty much abandoned all people of faith to the Right, and to me that’s the dumbest mistake imaginable.

      1. Mike

        Nicely put, Bobbo. As a progressive Christian – there’s a lot of us, actually – this drives me crazy, even though I have a number of agnostic/atheist friends.

        Progressives/the Left/whatever the term is need to buckle down and do the low level organizing the Right has or we will simply wink out of existence. Waiting for the Right’s demographics (old, white, low information voter etc.) to solve this is lazy and stupid. The Right can grow more of themselves just like any other group; the Left needs to prioritize, organize and proselytize ASAP.

  4. Jesper

    Maybe they come across as the champagne and caviar socialists that we have in Europe?

    The champagne and caviar socialists in Europe have more in common with the corporate-‘elite’ than the masses they claim to represent and that creates a credibility-gap. The credibility-gap may or may not be justified.

    If the same thing is being said by both the corporate-‘elite’ and the elected representatives of the people then an interesting question is: Are they obviously correct as they agree or is there another reason for their agreement in opinion? if it is the latter, maybe they are both relying on the same ‘science’ – Economics? Or another explanation more befitting to cynical minds?

  5. roadrider

    Maybe because groups like MoveOn and labor are faux-gressive Obama-bot/Dem loyalist fronts. Rob Garagiola? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. He’s an establishment tribal Dem all the way. And he is my state senator by the way.

    Obama and the Democratic establishment have brought us nothing but economic stagnation, a blind eye towards the worst white-collar crime wave in history and a continuation of the worst of the Bush era policies in terms of the national security and surveillance states. Institutional support from dipshit fake-left groups like MoveOn is meaningless. None of those groups would dare disrupt the neo-liberal agenda.

    1. Ulysses

      MoveOn exposed itself as hopelessly beholden to the corporatists with its very slick attempt to coopt all the revolutionary energy swirling around in the spring and summer of 2012. They conned a lot of decent folks into thinking that Obama, Cuomo, etc. were actually “progressives” who were doing their best in a flawed system. Our D/R duopoly is almost entirely given to kayfabe posturing, with both parties working hard for Goldman Sachs, etc. and against working people.

      The only true differences between the parties are over a small number of social and cultural issues. In other words, the only way it makes sense for a working person to support a mainstream D is if that person happens to work for a caterer, who benefits from the fact that wealthy gay people can now also throw lavish wedding receptions.

    2. Clonal Antibody

      It works against the Democrats that they reneged on every major progressive campaign promise they made in 2008. It caused them to lose the House in 2010. The left wing of the party has stayed home since then.

      I am a MoveOn and DFA member, but I rely upon them to tell me who the “shills” are. Look at people’s voting record, and their background. It tells you much much more than the words they speak. I just don’t see anybody running as a Democrat that I can support. There are some third party folks,that I could support, however, the change in the California primary rules makes it close to impossible for third party candidates to run in the general election. See the case of Ellen Brown running for the State Treasurer. She got more votes (as a percentage) as a third party candidate for a state wide office than any third party candidate has received for over fifty years, yet she will not be on the final general election ballot, as only the top two candidates get to run in the general election under the new rules.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        That’s the problem with the Dems – they are much more concerned with making sure challengers from their left don’t get on the ballot then in actually defeating the Republicans. Because at the end of the day they are actually pretty chummy with each other.

        During the Bush years I attended a panel on NSA overreach (before Obama et al made it retroactively legal) and what to do about it. Among the panelists was our D Congressman Tom Allen. He said we should all write to our Congresspeople and to the newspapers. I mentioned to him that those in the room has already done that and perhaps a better way would be to remove Olympia Snowe from office as she had supported these things in the past. She was up for re-election that year and I asked Allen if he would do everything in his power to support Snowe’s Democratic opponent. He couldn’t bring himself to say yes – he and Snowe had been in politics together for some time and her D challenger was little known and not well funded.

        A few years later Allen tried to challenge Susan Collins’ senate seat but there was a lefty independent 3rd party candidate in the race. The state D party twisted itself into knots making sure the indy wouldn’t be on the ballot. Meanwhile Tom Allen played nice with Collins, wouldn’t criticize her for her support of Bush egregious policies, and had his ass handed to him in the general election.

        This guy was supposedly a ‘progressive’ but at the end of the day was far more interested in perpetuating the status quo.

          1. lyman alpha blob

            I can’t remember either and a quick search of the 2008 Maine Senate race didn’t bring anything up. maybe if he’d (that I do remember – candidate was a male) been allowed on the ballot….

  6. Carolinian

    “His opponent, Sheyman claimed, smeared him, arguing that Sheyman does not support apartheid-like policies by a right-wing government in Israel, but in fact, Sheyman claims, he does.”

    That says it all doesn’t it? Perhaps the inauthenticity problem being suffered by “progressive” candidates is because they are not, in fact, authentic. Their very shaky moral compass is nowhere more in evidence than when it comes to the Middle East.

    It’s time to give up on the Democrats and the D.C. progressives. Something new.

    1. Phil N.

      Carolinian, I couldn’t agree more. Everytime there is an “electoral” debate here in the US, the moment will come when the key word “Israel” is pronounced. That is the moment where you will see that there is really no difference between the established candidate and his/her challenger. Some things you don’t want to touch here, and if you already make exceptions from the beginning, then what is the point of voting for you?

      1. Carolinian

        As I said the other day I voted Green in the last two Pres elections. But isn’t the Green party at this point just a way for those so inclined to avoid voting Democrat? The ridiculous attacks on Nader after 2000 may have taken the wind–such as it was–out of the Green’s sails.

        It’s going to take more than just the existence of an alternate party I think. What the non Democrat left needs at this point is credible leadership. Nader himself is out of the picture and I have no idea who that might be, but the Occupy notion of a leaderless movement doesn’t seem to be moving the ball.

        1. Whine Country

          Maybe it’s time to take the advice of former presidential candidate Pat Paulson. Vote for Nobody. Nobody will cut our taxes. Nobody will end our wars. Nobody will fix inequility. Nobody will…you get the picture. Seriously, the only thing that could possibly get me back in the voting booth is a ballot with “None of the above” on it. Maybe there is an element of this going on right under our noses. Eric Cantor lost to a nobody didn’t he. Maybe these two guys lost for the same reason.

          1. Jeremy Grimm

            I believe ‘no’ would be a better choice for a write-in than ‘Nobody’ or ‘None of the Above’. It’s better in several ways. It’s shorter and easier to write in. It also ties in with the successful campaign to oust Pinochet, as dramatized in the recent movie ‘No’. Maybe some of the commercials used in that campaign could be reused and translated and reused. If everyone writes in the same ‘no’, a lot of counties are supposed to count and report the write-in votes.

            I’ve voted for third party candidates in the past but at this point I think there are too many third choices for any one to garner enough votes to even get matching funds. Besides this, I worry about the possible result of from third party splits of the vote. From what I understand, Hitler was a third party vote who won with the help of protest votes from the remains of the middle class and former middle class. I haven’t studied his message, but at least part of Hitler’s platform was pitched toward getting the economy running again.

    2. Jagger

      I noticed that as well. Just shows the stranglehold Israel, their American allies and money have on US politics as I just can’t see how anyone with any sort of moral compass and with their eyes open can support Israel today.

    3. timbers

      “That says it all doesn’t it? Perhaps the inauthenticity problem being suffered by “progressive” candidates is because they are not, in fact, authentic. Their very shaky moral compass is nowhere more in evidence than when it comes to the Middle East.”

      Agree with you, maybe even more than you do….lol. Because while the M.E. is an example of bad moral compass as you say, it it really what’s on most voters minds? Maybe there are issues closer to home like falling wages, low paying jobs, sucky healthcare, declining living standards.

      1. Jagger

        The moral acceptance of death and maiming of large numbers of innocent people, the destruction of a society and the theft of land for lebensraum is a violation of the most basic foundation of morality. If a politician can accept those actions as a condition for their own personal power, what can’t they accept? Or if you want to be a little kinder, can politicians really believe acceptance of the ends, justify the means?

        Of course considering the dysfunctional state of the US media, I imagine many Americans simply don’t have their eyes wide open. They believe the “news”/propaganda they see and have never truly investigated what is going on in the middle east or around the world. But politicians are suppose to know. That is their job. They have to make the moral choice and it seems we have failure across the board.

        1. timbers

          You could almost call Israel’s policies “reverse Nazism” or just Nazism. Seriously. Ironic isn’t it. But completely outside of permitted conversation.

          1. Jagger

            Kind of reminds me of the Warsaw Ghetto and the uprising. Nothing new under the sun, just different people doing the killing and being killed. Israel learned the wrong lessons from the nazis. Instead of repudiating liebensraum and the Warsaw ghetto, they have embraced the concepts..

            1. Oregoncharles

              Nietsche: “If you stare too long into the abyss, the abyss also stares into you.”

              It infected them. Of course, part of the problem is an extreme sense of entitlement.

              1. John

                It took me a long time to realize that the Israelis had turned into their oppressors but now that I do I no longer feel the same sympathy for them when I see a movie or read a book about WWII.

              2. James Levy

                People around here like to talk tough and about kicking ass and taking numbers and not being a bunch of defeatist pansies. Fine. You talk about Israel the way you do here above in the main stream media and you will be destroyed. 90% of Jews will abandon you, and they are the only solid source of money you’ve got to run a progressive campaign. All the religious Christians, whom Banger and others are always saying we should get down with, will revile you and vote against you, because the Jews are Gods Chosen People and the Arabs are infidels who worship the devil and whose religion’s founder was a terrorist and a pedophile. And the media will brand you a psychotic anti-Semite (the worst thing you can be called in our culture and the death knell for any academic or public career).

                So, you can get on your high horse and say “this guy supports the Israelis, therefore ipso facto he’s a faux progressive, a jerk, and a sell-out.” And you can whistle that tune all the way to the graveyard. You wanna be right, or you wanna win?

                  1. Yves Smith Post author

                    Agreed. Most young Jews don’t feel any identity with Israel, and I know some older ones (as in older than me) who became unsympathetic after Israel invaded Lebanon.

                  2. James Levy

                    Write an essay that makes the points above that calls the Israelis Nazis and compares what they are doing in Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto and see what happens.

                1. Jagger

                  —-You wanna be right, or you wanna win?–

                  I don’t want to win if it means selling my soul.

  7. Richard

    The U.S. has to address its own very real problems. A crumbling infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, water delivery systems), underemployment (rebuilding our infrastructure plainly would create a lot of jobs), rampant corruption, loss of public trust, endless military intervention in the affairs of other countries . . . these absolutely must be addressed or we simply won’t have a country left for our idiot politicians to argue over.

      1. John

        I agree. The looting the elites have wrought on this country for 3 decades now is starting to show.

  8. MtnLife

    I agree with the above commenters on the faux-progressiveness of MoveOn. I would add that, when I first heard of them, their policy objectives seemed much more substantial and reasonable. After the initial honeymoon period, every update from them seems like some piece of fluff, half hearted measure, or an advancement of Big Mother policies. What’s there to get behind?

  9. mellon

    In looking at the health care / FTA conondrum I have seen enough covert cooperation in dysfunction between the two parties (think “good cop bad cop routine) to wonder about the legitimacy of the Democrats and what their real goal is. Even highly visible left politicians like Bernie Sanders fail to tell us important things that you know they must know. If a left is to be created it should be built from scratch. Lesser of two evils doesn’t work.Its intentionally dysfunctional. People should face the very real probability that our entire political system as it exists today is SO corrupt its effectively a sham.

  10. Moneta

    A lot of comments about authenticity… let’s get to the crux of the matter… what is an authentic progressive?

    1. Ulysses

      Unfortunately, nearly everyone who tries to work within our current system is not allowed to pursue an authentic progressive agenda. For example, I’m pretty sure Prof. Zephyr Teachout, were she by some miracle to defeat Andrew Cuomo in the primaries, would very soon come to a fork in the road– where she would have to choose between a career in politics or sticking by her principles.

      The authentic progressives I know are all involved in fighting fracking, or drone attacks, or whatever, from outside the system. There are a few folks authentically interested in protecting civil liberties from within the ACLU, or the National Lawyers Guild, but they are mostly very cautious individuals.

      1. Moneta

        The thing is that in my mind, the more attached one is to materialism and individualism, the less progressive one can be. Since America is based on materialism and individualism, and increasingly so on a total national energy and resource consumption basis, I don’t see how the progressivism can win…

        1. Kurt Sperry

          But is “individualism” intrinsically anti-progressive? In a two party duopoly of O-bots and social conservatives the tribal dynamics pretty much preclude individualism of any authentic sort in politics. Partisanship, patriotic rhetoric, denying self in business hierarchies or to comply with narrow social standards are all antithetical to individual agency.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Anyone who has a visceral reaction to any Republican, even the “good” ones constitutes a fine human being. Obama’s admiration of Reagan, Lieberman, Hagel, Bob Gates, Bernanke, and Colin Powell is a perfect example of the man’s ugliness.

      After the last 50 years of the GOP party, anyone who still thinks there are “good” Republicans who can be reasoned with are intellectually stunted or crooked and just don’t like country “music.”

      This is my test. This does not include morons still whining about Sarah Palin. The problem is the Republicans who aren’t drooling because corporatists can use them to create the illusion of bipartisanship, but the Democrats for whatever reason can’t work with the Palin type to pass faux-immigration reform and Social Security cuts. Weren’t the Democrats bemoaning the first round loss of that right wing senator to a tea bagger? They weren’t upset they were losing a secret liberal. They were upset because he can sit in the room with Obama when they pursue a hideous policy.

  11. Banger

    Can someone close the Italics and Bold tags please?

    Anyway, there is are many reasons the progressive left is dead and we’ve had many discussions about it. There’s no zip, no life in those movements because they lack a solid intellectual and conceptual framework but rather focus on a series of platitudes about policy that sound nice but people are, increasingly, bored with.

    I used to make fun of people at DKOS who believed, I claimed, that politics consists of competing sermons. But that’s only part of the problem–the Narrative is all wrong or, as some say “framing” is all wrong. Progressives, in general, actually accept almost the entire mainstream Narrative which I say is demonstrably false on almost all issues including American Exceptionalism. The main feature of left-wing politics is strident complaints like “it’s not fair” and so on. Politics is not fair! There is no Mommy of Daddy out there that will tell the children to stop squabbling–power is something you grab hold of–you reward your friends and punish your enemies (we can love our enemies and still recognize they are enemies).

    The left, for example, still hasn’t grasped that Obama is the enemy. He personally may vote for progressive candidates and have his own fairly progressive feelings (who knows?) but his job demands that he be actively anti-progressive. I don’t think he’s a bad guy but he’s frankly, a guy the oligarchs who run things hired to defuse the American left which needs to finally wake up to the fact of its own willingness to accept the Narrative coming out of the NYT or NPR which, as I said, is misleading at best but mainly false which readers here have to realize by now.

    I believe the starting point is to deconstruct the narrative and realize who we are and where we’ve been. Then we can get down to rolling up our sleeves and doing something.

      1. Lambert Strether

        Thanks, but please do not try. For one thing, by the structure of HTML, close tags far away in the comments won’t close tags in the post. For another, WordPress is smart enough to throw them away anyhow.

        But finally, WordPress isn’t that smart, and if lots of people started throwing in random close tags, that could be bad. Thank you!

        1. Lafayette

          Yes, I have also noted that some posts containing multiple HTML-tags simply disappear.

          Must give WordPress and upset stomach …

          1. Vatch

            Yes, I’ve noticed that too. I sometimes include HTML as a convenience for readers, so they can directly link to a description of a book or to another type of informational website. Sometimes I like to provide a little evidence along with my opinions. But that can backfire. Oh well.

          2. Lambert Strether

            Hmmm. There has been a low-level intermittent bug for as long as I remember, where some posts don’t get queued as possible spam or for moderation but simply disappear. There is literally nothing we can do. And as anybody close to software engineering knows, intermittent bugs are very hard to reproduce, hence hard to fix.

            So it’s an interesting idea that unbalanced, “bad” HTML could cause this. Maybe by the time WP throws away the tags, there’s nothing left.

            The problem never happens to me, but on this theory, it wouldn’t, because I’m an HTML geek and always close my tags.

        2. mellon

          Was it line 509? with no closing

          Here’s what I think is quite possible. There is fraud. Not fake voters, manipulation of vote tallies. And if that was the case it would be likely the two main parties were doing it in collusion.

          The voting machines in many places across the country are insecure. There is no paper record of votes. What’s needed is to use a simple human readable, identical optical ballot system all around the country that uses paper ballots and sealed ballot boxes, and only the simplest, dumbest electronics. That’s what some experts at Princeton University seem to be telling us.

          Each districts vote totals should be public, and the numbers should be tallied publicly. The voting system should be as basic as possible and it should use paper ballots. Everything should be examined with an eye to what can be done to prevent fraud if the two “main” parties are in collusion. The system should be designed by security experts and not politicians or people with a political axe to grind. The Federal mandate to use touchscreen voting machines was a mistake because many of them are insecure. This was known, but they still use them in many states.

          Colluion, where did I get that? because I suspect that they are colluding to cover up the healthcare / FTA issue. The FTA/healthcare connection (I ve tried to explain the whole thing repeatedly here so I wont do so again, just steer people to this paper) Anyway, one has to see all the things that are required for single payer (#1 for it to be single- payer) One has to see the FTA negotiating positions on drugs and insurance.. One has to see things like the Obama “phRMA deal that seemed to be repeating constraints which had already been written into FTAs, so it smacks of a cover up. To me. To keep the country from even looking at the issue, as the UK is now.

          So, (to me, at least) I think that there is a possibility that since they do seem to be in collusion to cover up that one extremely important thing-(to them) so important that from the beginning, they have been following a script they mutually agreed on, and only pretending to argue, (in a good-cop/bad-cop manner) then, the possibility that they would be “colluding” on other things too, like electoral fraud, should be seen as too large to ignore.

          In how many states do they use voting machines which are known to be insecure and have not been fixed? Several that I know of. Find out the name of your states voting machines and Google them with the word “insecure” and see what comes up.

          1. Oregoncharles

            The old big-city machines, that depended on vote fraud, were mostly Democratic (Chicago was the last – and it may still be operating). In brief, if the Republicans can cheat, so can the Democrats.

              1. Lambert Strether

                That’s very good. This jumped out:

                Let’s look at Rezko and then Davis. It was Rezko’s ability to exploit relationships with influential blacks—including Muhammad Ali—that enabled him to become one of Chicago’s preeminent cockroach capitalists. Altogether, Rezko wound up developing over 1,000 apartments with state and city money. There was more to the Obama-Rezko relationship than the empty lot in Kenwood. Rezko raised over $250,000 for Obama’s state senate campaign. While Obama was a state senator he wrote letters in support of Rezko’s applications for development funds. But Obama ignored the plight of Rezko’s tenants who complained to Obama’s office.

                Rezko’s Grove Parc partner, Allison Davis, was a witness in the Rezko trial, he’s pretty radioactive too. But you could see why Rezko wanted to hook up with him. Davis was the senior partner in Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland, a small, black law firm, where Obama worked for nearly a decade. As the editor of the Harvard Law Review, Obama could have worked anywhere. Why did he choose the Davis firm?

                Davis had been a noted civil rights attorney and a progressive critic of the first Daley machine. But in 1980 Davis got a call from the Ford Foundation’s poorly known, but immensely influential, affiliate LISC—the Local Initiatives Support Corporation—that had just been founded. LISC, … connects small, mainly minority community non-profits with big foundation grants and especially with bank loans and tax credit-driven equity. LISC wanted to co-opt Davis in their ghetto redevelopment program. He agreed and the Davis firm came to specialize in handling legal work for non-profit community development firms. Eventually Davis left the firm to go into partnership with Tony Rezko.

                Meanwhile, Obama did legal work for the Rezko-Davis partnership. And for Community Development Organizations like Woodlawn Organization. In 1994, the LA Times reports, Obama appeared in Cook County court on behalf of Woodlawn Preservation & Investment Corp., defending it against a suit by the city, which alleged that the company failed to provide heat for low-income tenants on the South Side during the winter.8 There were several cases of this type, but as the Times observes, Obama doesn’t mention them in Dreams from My Father.9

                Back in 2008, the main focus on the Obama-Rezko connection was an allegedly crooked house deal. Little did we know that the real corruption was hidden in plain sight.

                1. OIFVet

                  Don’t forget that Valerie Jarrett was also involved in Grove Parc. Her company, Habitat Company, was the property manager for Grove Parc, and a score of other Rezko Section 8 properties. She got quite rich in the bargain despite demonstrating no particular business skills other than hitching her cart to the right political horse. And while Barack was shilling on behalf of slumlords getting fat off the federal program, Michelle and Jarrett (Chairwoman of the board of the medical center at the time) was busy designing the UofC patient dumping program, ensuring that the slumlord’s Medicaid-enrolled tenants were turned away to community health clinics as part of the “Urban Health Initiative”, the same clinics that Rahm promptly shut down upon becoming Da Mare. Ah, the community spirit and progressivism oozing out of this family and their circle of friends, it’s overwhelming.

          2. David

            “There is fraud. Not fake voters, manipulation of vote tallies. And if that was the case it would be likely the two main parties were doing it in collusion.”

            The truth of the matter is above. There is fraud by tampering with the voting machines and both political parties along with the Federal Agencies, independent groups and medial will not take a stand to call it out, much less intervene.

            Both political parties, the media, and independent groups are supported by the elites and they know how their bread is buttered. The Federal Agencies do not intervene in political activities and that includes the stealing of elections and thus our Democracy.

            Read that as, they do not support Democracy through the prosecuting of illegal activities based on not following the processes that allow Democracy (laws, statutes, and ordinances) but they “may” prosecute money crimes.

            Been there, talked to them, experienced it, and will not fly that flag again, as none of these organizations will even look at crimes against Democracy.

    1. Paul Niemi

      All good points. Me, I’ll give one reason why the so-called “Internet Democrats,” who take all the populist positions, lose or can’t win a primary. It is because no one told them they had to wear out three pairs of shoes knocking on doors. Posture on issues and narrative is just a part of getting elected. Now on to the closing of the American italics and bold tags. The President was last seen sampling BBQ somewhere in Texas, but it is not he who has had their ellipsoid face on the news continuously for months, it seems. It is Secretary of State Kerry. Everywhere you look, there he is, getting his picture taken with every leader in every country, in the middle of everything. I looked up his schedule. Hillary Clinton was known to be a record-setting traveller as Secretary of State. Kerry is spending half his time traveling, and logging about 30 percent more miles than Sec Clinton did. And this guy is 70 years old. In 17 months, he has visited 51 countries, spent 1,023 hours in the air, and traveled 473,250 miles. I don’t think this guy has slept in his own bed in months. One has to ask why Sec. Kerry is personally seeking this much limelight, when he could be limiting his schedule and taking it easier to spend more time with his family? Could it be that he is trying to impress someone? Is that someone also doing a lot of traveling, getting more and more recognition as she campaigns and fundraises for senatorial candidates, becoming a real liberal icon as she spreads the populist message and gains fans from coast to coast? I know what people will say, “Oh, that Kerry is just a pompous blowhard.” Well, yes, but the former Democratic nominee is our pompous blowhard, and I can believe that quite a few types in the halls of power could believe a Kerry-Warren ticket to be just the thing. Warren would get her foot in the door, without running for the big office right away, and all they would have to do this time around is dispatch old Romney again. Not difficult. By way of explanation, Kerry, the deep-state darling, might truly believe that he’s being called upon to sacrifice to clean up the messes left by the past two administrations. The idea causes a shudder, but there’s an apt quote from Goethe: “A vain man can never be utterly ruthless: he wants to win applause.” Regarding the deviousness I assume by this crazy idea of mine, actually I would be more disturbed to find out there wasn’t any jockeying for position or attempts to stack the deck going on. That would be even more concerning.

      1. mellon

        The only reason Obama won is because people stupidly thought that because he was half black, he would not be like the others. But he was.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          If Obama was white and still a Democrat, Illinois political circles would have hailed him as the poor man’s Mark Warner.

  12. John

    Even MSNBC has soured a bit towards lefty Dems. Where does this come from?

    People keep getting fooled by these fakes. A case study is Elizabeth Warren. Rather than push bills that benefit the 99% she fashions them in a way righty ideologues benefit in a big way.

    Voters are fully aware progressives will sacrifice their core beliefs to get righty votes, something which is never, ever reciprocated.

    1. Vatch

      Could you please provide an example of a bill that she has fashioned for the benefit of right wing ideologues? I’m not doubting you — but I have written my Senators in support of her 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013, and I’ve encouraged friends to support it too. Am I wasting my time?

        1. Vatch

          For some reason, the colon (:) is being omitted from the end of the URL. Click the link, then add “:” (without the quotes), and you’ll get to the bill’s description. Sorry.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Her timid student loans bill. Making interest rates lower will just lead to larger principal balances (students can borrow MORE) and more college cost increases. Totally unwilling to tackle the real issues, which is massive growth in ed costs, virtually none of which involve the delivery of education to students (a bloating of the adminsphere and huge increase in their comp, gold plated student dorm and gyms, etc).

    2. Benedict@Large

      Even MSNBC has soured a bit towards lefty Dems. Where does this come from?

      Lefty Dems don’t stick to the script. That makes them dangerous on an editorial/TV news set. They tend to be more educated about their particular subject, generally have at least an idea when a body is buried somewhere, and aren’t afraid to ask real questions. I suspect if a “lefty Dem” were over at Rachel Maddow’s house, she’d be quite willing to engage him or her, but when she’s at work, she’s knows at least part of her job on the set is to keep the discussion within the approved Overton frame, and she knows which lefty Dems can and can’t be trusted to do that.

      1. Vatch

        An example or two, please. Is the Glass Steagall bill badly written? Aside from not doing enough, of course.

          1. Vatch

            I’m not referring to the Glass Steagall Act. I’m referring to the bill introduced by Elizabeth Warren, the 21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013. Sorry about the ambiguity.

      2. mellon

        I’ve been following Sen. Warren’s work for two decades and I don’t think so. She’s written extensively on the tricks banks use to bankrupt the poor and middle class.

        So of course, the noise machines are hard at work.

        It blows me away that Obama could have been selected without any publications at all. In academia, they say publish or perish and its true. Most academics have long lists of publications. Its rare to see an academic without publications.

        What we have to avoid is being forced into another lesser of two evils situation. Many people would rather vote Green than waste our votes on another player.

        Thats why we need ranked choice voting.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I saw Warren speak and she bent over backwards to say at the top and again during the speech (this was BEFORE she was appointed to head the Congressional Oversight Panel, so long before she was a serious political figure) on how much she LOVED markets and contracts.

          This is neoliberalism, pure and simple. She’s not as progressive as her followers want to believe she is.

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      MSNBC is owned by GE and now Comcast. They fired Donahue and Olbermann despite being their top-rated shows and Olbermann largely building the network. The network was never lefty except for Donahue’s studio-audience show and when Olbermann went off script. They fired Olbermann when they were concerned he would embarrass the network’s desire to be the pro-rated Dem website.

    4. washunate

      One note on Warren; she is not a radical leftist. She is a former Republican and Ivy League law professor who committed the Unforgivable Sin – following data about how the real world operates (the two income trap) beyond the borders of what the modern GOP allows for acceptable thought. You may talk about Family Values, but not if it conflicts with the authoritarian assault on the family!

      That liberals expect her to be some kind of radical leftist leader is a sign of the cluelessness of the left, not the fakeness of Warren.

  13. Tom Hickey

    The left is not going to turn out for DINOs and that includes most so-called progressives. The question is becoming whether Democrats can win elections without the left.

    Why the low level of intensity on the left? The same thing that raised the level of intensity on the far right. Sold out too may times.

    Clinton was crushing. Obama a betrayal. and the prospect of a near certain Clinton redux is depressing. But there is no viable political structure on the left that is not severely comprised by the Establishment capable of countering this trend rightward “to capture the center” (read pick up moderate GOP votes) and into the arms of the plutocrats, I mean, donors.

    The Democratic Party has morphed into a combination of Eisenhower and Rockefeller Republicanism with a dark underbelly of outright evil to prove it has cajones.


    The irony is that the triangulation strategy that Clinton adopted and that has been fundamental to Democratic strategist since then was developed by Dick Morris. That alone says it all.

  14. human

    As long as some are playing with semantics:

    Liberals think that The System needs some tweaking.

    Progressives are of the belief that The System is broken and needs to be fixed.

    Radicals know that The System is working as intended.

    1. Jill

      Count me in on that radical analysis!

      People do deserve to have their garbage picked up, clean water (Detroit doesn’t even give its citizens water unless they are corporate citizens), clean air, good schools, housing, health care and education. There is a reason that many people resent prisoners having access to a semblance of these things. They aren’t getting them!

      An actual progressive would be dedicated to achieving these ends. What we see instead are candidates who may say they are progressive but do not deliver on these basic human needs. “By their fruits shall thee know them.” (As an atheist I do like some Bible quotes!)

      I have been thinking how ordinary people can get around the flexians who run things (into the ground). I think we need to start creating what we really want. There is a lot of talent out there. There are people who can build or rehab housing stock. There are educators, health care professionals, lawyers etc. There are people who can pick up recyclables, people who can drive others to needed services, etc. People who can rake lawns, help with care taking needs, plant gardens, bring around good food etc. If we have to incorporate to accomplish these things, we should consider doing so. Corporations have a lot of legal protections not afforded to human people!

      We also need people who are able to articulate what a just society looks like. We don’t hear much about that for a reason. We can stop voting supposed LOTE, including Obama supporting, move-on sanctioned candidates posing as progressives.

      I know this is not the be-all answer to what we face, not by any means, but it is something we can do for each other right now.

  15. lakewoebegoner

    Ugly truth (especially in Illinois), Democratic politics are not ‘liberal’ or policy-driven but patronage-driven, “machine”-driven. And the local establishment Democrats have a huge advantage in getting out their people to the polls.

    viable liberal local politics are literally found in a few zip codes in each state here local mobilization (often by young, or non-Democratic Machine liberals) can overcome the local Democratic Party patronage system.

  16. Billy-bob

    I used to be a Dem. Obama, Pelosi, and Reid cured me completely. We are ALL Independents now (or at least should be if we have any brains in our heads).

    1. Oregoncharles

      About 44%, nationally. A few more years, and we’ll be a majority, not just a large plurality (Clinton won with 42%). Then there won’t BE major parties any more.
      As it is, they’re quite small, just over and just under 3%.

      When will people start VOTING that way? who knows. When they get made enough, I suppose.

      1. Clonal Antibody

        Increasingly, I believe that states will follow California’s primary model. That model makes it close to impossible to get a third party candidate on the ballot in the general election.

        The only way to break out of this is for large number of the left to treat the primary election as the general election and to vote en masse for a third party candidate instead of any of the democrats running – in other words, abandon the democratic party in the primary. That is the only possible way out.

        1. Oregoncharles

          I agree.
          We’re trying to fend off a top-two primary here in Oregon – but if we fail, we need to focus on taking advantage of the low turnout in the primary.

  17. flora

    per article:
    “Party primaries are not political conventions, but the stakes are high. They are about which faction in the party is going to take the governing reigns. They are usually low-turnout affairs where only the party faithful shows up. They are hard to poll, because the voting universe is unpredictable, but in many ways, primaries are far more important elections than general elections. ”

    That’s an important point. In general, moderates of both parties don’t vote in the primaries. That makes it relatively easy for a dedicated ‘fringe’ group like the tea party to oust incumbents in primaries and drag the party farther right. A moderate Rep is challenged by a tea partier (often a stealth candidacy) in the primary but the Rep moderate voters stay home. Where is a left of center platform (and these days Nixon would be considered left of center) and group that will energize the base on the left?

  18. Hacksaw

    The window of opportunity is closing if not already closed for Democrats if they do not wake up and figure a few things out.
    Stop stumping for the poor, the women, the gays, the environment, the latinos, and the blacks. Finally understand that when you do, it alienates as many as it attracts. Figure out the issue that will attract women, men, gays, straights, blacks, latinos, whites, old, young, and even the poor is true support for workers. Not support for unions, they are as bad as the robber barons, but support for the actual workers. All of the groups that the Democrats are trying to reach would be attracted by such support. Go back to the days of FDR and remember that without financial freedom there is no freedom.
    Throw away the minimum wage in favor of a right to collective bargaining for every worker in this country guaranteed by the power of the federal government. Stop talking about health care unless you are willing to go all the way to a system like Canada has. Replace all the social issues with economic ones and make sure you do not support anything that hurts workers. Pressure the robber barons and do not be afraid to use antitrust and fraud laws against them. Remember that roughly 60% of voters fall into the category of worker, if you can garner their support the robber barons will be hard pressed to win an election. Remember that while social issues are fun to talk about no one votes against their own financial wellbeing.
    Democrats, go back to being the working man’s party. Do not be afraid, the economic collapse off 2008 woke up millions to the economic war that has been declared against them and they are looking for someone to lead them in the fight. Be that someone, if not do not complain when they go looking somewhere else for leadership.

    1. wageslave

      hacksaw nailed it.8o% of voters will look at economic security issues over anything else, and if democrats are still to dumb to figure this out than it’s all over for them.

      1. James Levy

        Did you read What’s the Matter with Kansas? Have you looked at who people vote for in primaries and elections? Did you catch Nixon versus McGovern? Reagan versus Mondale (the last liberal to run for President on a major party ticket)? People vote of NASCAR, the Confederate Flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, Prayer in the School, the Ten Commandments in the Courthouse, the Defense of Marriage, Abortion, Israel, English as our national language, Christianity as our national religion–need I go on. Everyone talks about “identity politics” but what is more an example of identity politics than the crap ladled out to Southern and rural Whites?

        You’ve got a point, but it’s a really narrow one. When we stop defining the interests of the majority (you know, those pesky women, blacks and gays) as “special interests” but what’s good for white guys as “the common interest” then I’ll take this line seriously. But I always see a hint of bigotry and special pleading for one’s own needs in most attacks on “identity politics.”

        1. Lambert Strether

          So, since the conservatives are successfully using identity politics with the Confederate Flag, etc., the left should double down on their tactics? It seems the Democratic nomenklatura believes this, but should the rest of us?

          1. Ulysses

            The trick is to simplify identity politics. In other words, Hacksaw points the way with pitting workers against robber barons. The elites have no trouble finding LGBT kleptocrat toadies like Quinn was here in NYC. They can find Latino kleptocrat toadies, rural, urban, whatever.

            This divide and conquer strategy won’t work if we simply insist of every candidate that they commit to putting criminal banksters in jail, and take other actions that may inconvenience the 1%.

            White working people would vote for a black lesbian from Boston if she was truly on their side against the robber barons. Black working people would vote for an aristocratic WASP who had slave-owning ancestors, if she too was clearly a class traitor and on their side against the robber barons.

            The time is ripe for a revolt of the commons!! Most Americans are disgusted by the way the political classes try to divide us. This is why the elites were right to be alarmed when OWS opened the door– to 99% of us openly communicating with each other and learning that we shared the same oppressors in the 1%.

              1. James Levy

                I would love to see you try, but I think you may find the results less to your liking than you imagine–I was there on Super Tuesday when it looked like Jesse Jackson, whose message was decidedly liberal/populist, was going to be the Democratic nominee. It didn’t end well.

  19. two beers

    Two, the internet Democrats need to understand the basis of George Washington Plunkett politics, which is that votes come from getting voters turkeys at Christmas. Voters want stuff, information on how to live their lives, increased incomes, a better world, tax cuts, the trash picked up regularly, whatever – and if you can’t credibly get it to them, your message is unpersuasive.

    I disagree. I think most voters are drawn to the candidate whose message reinforces their own self-image. That’s why Obama — rightwing, neoliberal authoritarian that he is in practice, but still anodyne in message — is still popular with self-identified liberals.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Shhh. ..although this only works on voters over a certain age. Younger voters aren’t locked in yet. 2010 saw sharp declines in youth voting, and Democrats aren’t seeing the Hispanic youth wave coming to save them in November.

  20. George Phillies

    Why bother with Democrats? Voters who support drug legalization, gay marriage,… Already have “Supporting the Right to Marry and the Right to Carry…Since 1971” The Libertarian Party . Accept no substitutes.

  21. Paul Tioxon

    “I Believe in America.”
    That is the very beginning of the movie, THE GODFATHER Part I. It is a plaintive plea, more than a declaration coming from the blackness of the room Don Corleone sits, in waiting for well wishers during his daughters wedding celebration.

    “America has made my fortune.”

    But America betrayed the poor funeral home owner by letting harm befall his beloved daughter. And now, he turns to the Godfather for justice that America seems too weak and too overrun with corrupt animals to provide. He started out believing in America, but no more. He is in pain, hurt, betrayed and he did not do anything wrong, he did not deserve this wicked turn of events to reach out pull his family into the messed up world of violent crime. And now, with murder in his heart, he lashes out for blood vengeance.

    Why should the American public, at whatever point of income stratification, class, race or sex, why should any of them listen to any of the people here on NC? Why should they join with MoveOn, or any local Tea Party? What relationship has been built that people with little time, patience or capacity to hear ideas and arguments can depend upon, that they are not voting for some unknown crazy person that is complete waste of their time? Here is a small, illustrative story of acquiring power and using it wisely.

    Regular Politics: Judge Reichbach
    By Paul Berman – July 22, 2012

    ……….. Lopez recounted to the mourners how Gus Reichbach entered what Lopez described as “regular politics,” a phrase of art. Long ago Lopez was a reform-minded insurgent Democrat who yearned to overthrow the corrupt Brooklyn political machine and replace it with something more Lopezian, and he fielded candidates in a primary election. There was an opening for a civil court judge candidacy in a largely Hispanic district, where the chances of defeating the machine candidate were deemed to be nil. Somebody brought to Lopez’s attention the advisability of meeting Gustin L. Reichbach, who had never run for office but did have a law degree and was known to be the terror of landlords. Lopez granted Reichbach an audience.

    The interview was evidently memorable. Reichbach acknowledged to Lopez a few biographical anomalies that might normally be considered obstacles to a successful political career—namely, a past on the ultra-left in the later 1960s and after. The acknowledgement was candid on Reichbach’s part, but then again, considering his notoriety, candor was the only option. During the years around 1968 an organization called Students for Democratic Society flourished at Columbia University, and SDS succeeded in igniting a student uprising, which briefly transformed the organization into a genuine force across large swathes of Upper Manhattan. Enormous blue phalanxes of the New York Police Department occupied entire city blocks for a while in order to prevent SDS and its allies from spreading their insurrection any further. Newsweek devoted a cover to a photo of SDS’s principal leader, Mark Rudd, scuffling with the helmeted police. And if you look up the photo (Rudd has reproduced it in his reliable memoir, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen), you will see, directly in front of Rudd himself, the cherubic face and golden tousled locks of a very young Gus Reichbach, who was likewise a leader of the student organization.

    Rudd and several other SDSers went on to organize something called the Weathermen, or Weather Underground, in order to foment a guerrilla war in the United States and bring about a communist revolution, which was not too shrewd an idea, as Rudd ultimately came to acknowledge with a lot of anguish; and Reichbach declined to join. In the Columbia chapter of SDS Reichbach’s refusal was a blow to the guerrilla project, given that, from his lofty position as a somewhat older law school student, he exercised an influence, perhaps without knowing it, over his younger undergraduate admirers.

    …………………………………. Vito Lopez is, however, a tolerant man. He is a friendly, generous, and forgiving man, warm and accepting. He is a peaceful man. He himself would never participate in a riot. He is also a focused man, and, during his interview with Gustin L. Reichbach, he was focused on finding a candidate to run for Brooklyn civil court judge. He did not fail to take in the gist of Gus’s confession. In his funeral speech, Lopez acknowledged to the mourners that Gus Reichbach’s leftism was of a distinctly robust sort, such that Lopez scarcely knew how to express how extreme it was, until finally he summed up the situation by conceding that Gustin L. Reichbach was not just an opponent of the war in Vietnam but “burned everything possible.” None of this struck Vito Lopez as an obstacle to a career in “regular politics.” From Lopez’s perspective, as expressed in the funeral oration, the crucial point needing clarification was Reichbach’s personal reliability. So Lopez posed a question. Suppose that, on the basis of his superior political experience, Lopez were to make a friendly suggestion to Reichbach, whose experience was nonexistent—could Reichbach be counted on to accept the friendly suggestion?

    Lopez in those years, before he had defeated and crushed most of his opponents, was a protégé of a distinguished civic leader named Tony Genovese, of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club in Canarsie. Lopez consulted with Genovese on the question of whether to run Gustin L. Reichbach for civil court judge. Genovese drew on his own political experience, which was superior even to Lopez’s, and offered his own friendly suggestion. He instructed Lopez to order Reichbach to cut his hair. Lopez faithfully passed along the suggestion. Reichbach cut his hair—not by a lot. Still, even a modest trim displayed the sort of collegiality that mattered to the leadership of the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club. And Lopez offered his own suggestion. It was a demand that Reichbach obey the ways of of politics. Lopez spelled out what this meant. You knock on a door. You meet the people inside. You make careful note of whether the people have a dog or a cat. The next day, you send a letter saying, “What a nice dog!” Reichbach agreed to follow these instructions.

    His campaign ran into a difficulty. Part of the district was populated by conservative Italians, and Reichbach did not know what to say to these people. Lopez knew what to say. He instructed Reichbach to talk about himself. I know that Reichbach followed this suggestion because, a few years later, he recounted the same story to me, except without revealing that Vito Lopez was the source of his political wisdom. Reichbach explained that, in campaigning among the conservative Italian ladies of Brooklyn, he said nothing at all about his larger ideas and principles and, instead, spoke about his Brooklyn childhood, his baby daughter, his wife, and the house he had bought. This was everything the ladies wanted to know. The ladies were keen to discover whether he was a nice person, and they concluded in his favor and were altogether delighted. He himself was delighted, and he passed along the story almost bubbling with joy. It was not that he had figured out how to deceive the conservative voters. He had figured out something else, which was that, in “regular politics,” people vote for a human being, not for an ideology, and he beamed with happiness because he had come to love “regular politics.”

    1. Paul Tioxon

      Here is a pitch perfect speech about himself, his family, where he came from. What he believes in is not as important in who he believes in, the coal miners grandson, Rick Santorum. But, you have to believe in something, and America is a good start. A man who believes in nothing will fall for anything. I saw this live on TV and my usual contempt just melted. I didn’t run out and sign up for anything, but I can tell you this, I saw a person as clear as day, and not contemptible at all in his humanity.

      An email or a tweet is to me, an annoying nudge. Like the phone ringing at dinner time, or after 8 at night. But someone who presents themselves for who they really are has my attention and my respect.

      1. JTFaraday

        “someone who presents themselves for who they really are”

        Right. Pure unmitigated bullsh*t. Whoever it was that turned “the Santorum” into a walking obscenity certainly had a point.

  22. Oregoncharles

    “Moveon alone has 15,000 members in the district, which means that the online group simply could not turn out its own members to vote.”
    I can explain that: a high proportion of MoveOn “members” are fake; they just get the email. Any time you sign a MoveOn petition, they put you on their list and count you as a member. Personally, I found that so irritating that I stopped signing their petitions. They do give you a chance to explain when you delist, though, so I tell them I’m not a Democrat and they’re nothing but an arm of the party.
    But it’s a nuisance, so I’m guessing a LOT of MoveOn “members” don’t consider themselves members.

    1. CB

      Right you are! Member lists are an old trick. I unsubscribed some time ago bc the emails referred to me as a “member” and I am definitely not. Bet I’m still on the member list, tho. Got to keep those numbers up.

  23. Steeleweed

    The Left generally is losing because it’s composed of and targeting the wrong demographic – urban, educated, up-scale liberals/progressives. It should be targeting the unemployed, foreclosed, blue collar, paycheck-to-paycheck (when lucky), retired-eating-catfood demographic. They ceded that to the Tea Party and are reaping the results. The Left only supports progressive issues that either help them or do not matter to them. IMHO, the Rightwingers ,are overtly and aggressively sociopathic and the Leftwingers are cowardly hypocrites.

    1. Lafayette

      It should be targeting the unemployed, foreclosed, blue collar, paycheck-to-paycheck (when lucky), retired-eating-catfood demographic. They ceded that to the Tea Party and are reaping the results.

      You are very right on that one. Wrong messaging.

      Social Justice is something the poor deserve, but they cannot fathom (for the moment). About 15% of Americans live below the poverty-line. Was it their fault? Sometimes no, they lost their jobs. Sometimes yes, they were trying to “flip a condo” and got caught in the foreclosure mess. Most reasons fall in between those two extremes. And the reasons don’t really matter in a country with a sense of Social Justice, meaning even poverty stricken must be guaranteed at least shelter and nourishment.

      But all we hear in the media is “moochers!” Which is just tedious sarcasm and nothing more.

      Regardless, 15% of the population is about 50 million men, women and children. That’s nearly the size of California and Illinois combined. No decent nation should accept that magnitude of poverty for its own citizens.

      But, how do we get them out from below the Poverty Threshold? Food stamps alone wont do it.

      So, we are back to what turned the reactive tide of the early 1930s, when even Roosevelt was trying to cut government expenses. John Maynard Keynes’ book published in 1934 reportedly convinced Roosevelt that just the opposite of budget-austerity was necessary, and began spending willy-nilly (the budget be damned).

      It lessened the damage amongst the poorest classes, but it took WW2 to finally end the Great Depression. Lesson to be learned: Never ever be so idiotic as to get into a recessionary economy.

      This last one was fomented by the Toxic Waste Mess, itself devised by some ultra-greedy Wall Street bankers who securitized SubPrime Loans – and the Fed Watchdog did nothing to stop it.

      The Fed was responsible for the Toxic Waste Mess because of its responsibility for market oversight. Here is what the Fed says it does (from its web-site):

      Today, the Federal Reserve’s duties fall into four general areas:
      *Conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing the monetary and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates
      *Supervising and regulating banking institutions to ensure the safety and soundness of the nation’s banking and financial system and to protect the credit rights of consumers
      *Maintaining the stability of the financial system and containing systemic risk that may arise in financial markets
      *Providing financial services to depository institutions, the U.S. government, and foreign official institutions, including playing a major role in operating the nation’s payments system.

      If item 3 above does not fall into the category of “market oversight responsibility” then, pray tell, how does the FRB “maintain financial stability”?

  24. Bruce Wilder

    Very much worth reading again.

    Analytically, I would offer an explanatory hypothesis, to tie together some of the themes: internet “progressive Democrats” are failing to make populist appeals that make sense to authoritarian followers. By “authoritarian followers”, I mean people, who somewhat fit the profile laid out by Bob Altemeyer in his book, The Authoritarians and other works, that is to say, ordinary people, who do not have the time to follow politics or develop strong personal philosophies, and who look to trusted messengers, who belong to the same membership organizations as themselves, for political leadership.

    There’s been a rationale, underlying being a Democrat in the Age of Obama, which involves a strong rejection of racism, which is good of course, tied to a rejection of all anti-Obama sentiment as motivated by racism, which is silly. I think the right-wing actually and deliberately encourages this behavior and thinking on the left — kind of a right-wing version of heightening the contradictions as a way of enhancing political stalemate and “polarisation”.

    If you want to increase turnout in a democracy, you have to make populist appeals and organize followers. Followers have a different psychology from “leaders” i.e. people who have enough political awareness and motivation to go out and try to organize a political campaign on behalf of some sort of idealism. To some large extent, in America, these are the “guns and God” crowd, and they pre-dominate in much of the small-city, ex-urb and rural areas of the country. Democrats once got a lot of votes from the grandparents and great grandparents of these “hard-working” folks. With fully half the population facing poverty or the very real risk of poverty, these are people, who ready to hear an economic message of help. They do not have particularly good political judgment; they are notoriously vulnerable to demagogues, and find authoritarians with a social-dominance orientation (psychology jargon, I know, but is there a clear common-sense term) oddly appealing — witness the popularity of Republican governors circa 2010 of the Florida Scott, New Jersey Christie, Wisconsin Walker variety. But, they are also egalitarians, who want a social welfare state and can be persuaded by non-violent resistance, of the injustice of authoritarian regimes.

    If you want to win at politics, you have to find good soldiers to march in your army. Too many liberals and “progressives” would prefer to be self-righteous and feel superior to the people, whose support is crucial (and who might actually benefit from liberal governance, if it wasn’t captured by neoliberal claptrap).

    1. Ulysses

      “Too many liberals and “progressives” would prefer to be self-righteous and feel superior to the people.” Bingo!!
      Of course people in “fly-over” country resent being looked down on. Joe Bageant’s “Deer Hunting with Jesus” might be the only book I would recommend as absolutely critical reading for anyone trying to revitalize populism in the U.S.

  25. Globus Pallidus XI

    “Liberal” democrats are getting crushed because they are scum who have sold out their basic principles for money, they consistently stab working-class American in the back, and hence they have nothing to offer except gay marriage and racial demagoguery.

    Here’s the bottom line: The average American is being deliberately crushed and it’s not hard to see how.

    1. Jobs are being shipped overseas via race-to-the-bottom trade agreements
    2. The government is spending trillions of dollars bailing out speculative finance welfare queens and cutting of investment in the real economy.
    3. The government is pushing for a cheap-labor open-borders immigration policy that will turn the nation into another Bangladesh in one or two generations tops (and if you object you are a racist).

    These are precisely the issues that FDR and the new dealers fought AGAINST. There are precisely what Barack Obama and the ‘liberal’ Democrats are fighting FOR.

    The tea party is not exactly my cup of – ahem – tea, but for all their flaws they do address at least some real concerns of working class Americans, and not just pay lip service…

    So let the faux-liberal Democrats die. Who needs them anyhow?

    1. John

      I refuse to vote for them any more.
      I tell MoveOn to move on.
      I scoff at the pretend stars of the Democrats. ALL of them populist fakers
      And I know for sure that their immigration policy is designed to crush me, the American worker.

    2. Lafayette

      Jobs are being shipped overseas via race-to-the-bottom trade agreements

      Historical Myopia.

      It all started in the early 1990s when the Bamboo Curtain came crashing down, and the China Price was born. The Waltons (et al) went to China to sign their first contracts for goods that Americans wanted to buy.

      The American shoppers liked their relatively high wages that permitted them to purchase much cheaper Chinese products. So, yes, American commerce learned the hard-way that it could not compete with China on price as regards product-sourcing.

      So, US manufacturing dislocated jobs to the FarEast in order to survive. (And the phenomenon did not only affect manufacturing jobs in America that were mostly dependent upon -un and semi-skilled labor. Nimble fingers were cheaper in China. Europe suffered as well.)

      What was American industry supposed to do? Keep manufacturing products in the US that would not sell? Duh …..

      That’s globalization for you and it is the Name of the Game, where countries must seek to specialize internationally in markets in which they can compete. For the US, that typically means high-tech and finance. As regards hi-tech, it is product innovation and development but not hands-on manufacturing.

      What does that transition mean for the US? That its labor-force must obtain a better set of skills/competencies that labor-markets require. That is done by assuring that young-adults have an easy entry to affordable Tertiary Education schools – whether they be vocational, college or university.

      In Europe, tertiary education is not a “business”. It’s entry is assumed as a basic Human Right, just like secondary schooling – and is facilitated by governments that subsidize the cost. In fact, Germany’s apprenticeship program has a 95% placement rate. It is among the world’s finest implicating both educational institutions and industry.

      Moreover, no student exits successfully in Europe from a college or university with a debt-albatross of (on average) $28K hanging around their necks.

      That’s done “only in America” … land of the Free and the Indebted.

      1. LifelongLib

        I can recall reading predictions of it from the early 70s. It was recognized at least that far back that as “third world” countries industrialized, “routine” manufacturing would move to those low-wage areas. High-wage countries like the U.S. were supposed to invest massively in worker education/training, infrastructure, and the advanced technologies that required such workers and infrastructure. But as everyone here knows those investments weren’t made in the 70s and 80s (or since). Your advice is still good but it’s our own fault we’re so far behind, and falling further.

        1. Lafayette

          High-wage countries like the U.S. were supposed to invest massively in worker education/training, infrastructure, and the advanced technologies that required such workers and infrastructure. But as everyone here knows those investments weren’t made in the 70s and 80s (or since).

          Made by whom, that’s the hitch.

          Perhaps everybody was expecting corporations to do it, and that simply did not happen of a magnitude necessary to meet the challenge. More perceptive minds would have seen the Chinese threat, and the US should have invested heavily in Tertiary Education subsidized by the government in the early 1990s. That would have worked in attracting young-adults to make an effort to obtain the necessary career-credentials.

          But no, even when Uncle Sam had the money during the boom, nothing was done. The nation was enthralled by the advent of the Internet and the money-spinning that was going on.

          Then, for another 8 years, LeadHead led us into a useless and costly war over in the sandbox. Had we spent that 1/2 trillion dollars in Tertiary Education, we’d have an educated up-to-date workforce today. During which time we managed also to go binging on Toxic Waste that brought us what? The Great Recession of 2009 and substantial unemployment since.

          What, ever, were we thinking … ?

          1. LifelongLib

            [Investment] made by whom[?]

            The U.S. government, the same entity that in part brought America its initial post-war prosperity via the New Deal, the G.I. Bill, and many other programs. Unfortunately the 70s and 80s marked the rise of “government is the problem” which effectively prevented any action. That’s what we were thinking.

  26. Jeff N

    I live in Illinois. I remember a lot of hype about “progressive” Ilya Sheyman a few years ago, but when I looked into him, he was a big supporter of Israel.

  27. washunate

    Great articles seem to age quite well.


    I got a funny from DFA just a couple days ago: IMPEACHMENT? Are you f—— kidding me?

    Try distinguishing that subject line from a spam email. And for goodness sakes, either actually swear, or keep it clean and professional.

    And the body of the email didn’t get any better. Why should I care whether Republicans win back the Senate? Because of impeachment? What does that have to do with anything of importance outside of the DC-NY bubble? And my personal favorite question, does DFA even know that conviction on impeachment is a two-thirds vote, not a simple majority?

    I pick on DFA because they were supposedly one of the more independent groups of the internet Dems, once upon a land before time far, far away.

    The cultural and inter-generational divide between upper middle class baby boomer liberals and the great unwashed masses in flyover country and the Millennial generation is reaching mindbogglingly hilarious proportions.

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