08/18/2007 06:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why Don't Democrats Have "Courage?"

Why does it seem that so many Democrats are "spineless" and rarely have the courage to "do the right thing?" Why does it seem they always "cave" to the right?

When I hear people talking about "the Democrats" and "the Republicans" I think what they really are seeing is the political effect of a supporting movement-oriented infrastructure that the right has and we do not. The right has a well-funded infrastructure and ecosystem that sets up a supportive public environment, rewarding their politicians for staying in line with the right's agenda, and punishing the ones who do not. Progressives just don't have that.

Face it, it is very easy for Republicans to be wingnuts. It doesn't take brains or courage or commitment - they just ride a wave that their movement apparatus sets up. Their candidates ride that wave into office and their policies ride that wave into law.

But it is incredibly hard and courageous for Democrats to "do the right thing." And it can cost them dearly. Just look at the difference between what happens to Republican and Democratic officeholders when they take strong positions that line up with the core values of their "base."

Republicans who toe the right wing corporate line know they have the whole "conservative movement" infrastructure and political system watching their backs, sticking up for them and going after their opponents. Even if they get tossed out of office they can expect serious rewards. They get appointed to a nice agency position, or a think tank job, or a lobbying job - something will be there for them and they know it. The right takes care of their own. (And we all know this system extends through their whole infrastructure, right down to speaking fees and book advances for lowly RW bloggers.)

But it is not easy for Democrats to do the right thing. Not at all. It takes incredible courage and commitment, because they are on their own when going against the system and the right's apparatus. For politicians who might support progressive values and policies there just is not much of a system beyond the blogosphere to encourage and support them to do the right thing. So they can expect no support - only punishment and pain. Dem politicians largely still do not support and stick up for each other and there is very little organized support from . There isn't a reward/job/payment system at all - candidates and their staff in fact have to worry that they are harming their future political and business careers by sticking up for progressive values.

To add to this our few think tanks are very, very, very poorly funded so they won't be hiring elected officials or staff if they lose an election, and progressives across the board pretty much do not receive anything but minimal book advances or speaking fees. (The one or two examples you can think of like former President Clinton actually just show how it could be; it is the norm on the right.)

Why should we expect our politicians to do what's right when all that happens when they do is they get beat up (first by other Dems), lied about, smeared, humiliated, destroyed, go broke, etc...

WE here in the blogosphere are incredibly dedicated and we "do the right thing." But look at us - many of us work for free, many more don't have health insurance. Many of us have given up good jobs to try to help the country through this emergency. I could go on and on about how hard it is. And we certainly can't expect to be rewarded with good jobs for our efforts. My point is that we should not think that because we put up with this lack of support, therefore everyone who shares our values will. I mean, on our side it really is often a choice between helping the movement and having a car or a family or health insurance or even health.

WHY don't we have a movement infrastructure? First, we don't have an understanding of the need. People seem to think it is someone else's job to take care of things. It's still "the Democrats aren't..." instead of WE aren't making the Democrats do it. So we don't have widespread understanding that it takes a political movement to change a party.

And then there is the funding problem. We don't have the huge funding the right has because we don't have a movement-orientation among most of our individual and corporate/institutional/foundation donors, and most important we do not have the willingness of individual progressives to dig deep enough and donate to progressive infrastructure organizations. We should be getting millions from the grassroots and we are only getting hundreds.

Then there is a second side of politicians doing the right thing. They are politicians, and the job of a politician is to represent the public, not shape the public. They respond to demand. Good politicians have very good noses for demand. So let's look at the demand-creation capabilities of progressives vs those of the right. The right has developed communication channels like Rush, Fox, the Washington Times and continues massive, well-funded efforts to reach the public through every possible information channel to every possible group. They have infiltrated churches, sports (NASCAR), interest groups (NRA), organizations like the American Legion, and I could just go on and on.

We have the blogosphere and ... well, we do have the blogosphere.

In a YearlyKos blogger meeting with Senator Dodd he said something that has shaped my thoughts on impeachment. It distilled down to the public not understanding how impeaching Bush will make a difference in their lives - especially when the right will be pounding the message that the Dems are doing nothing that helps them in their lives.

Let's not get caught up in whether the Dems are working for regular people or are not - we know they are - or whether impeaching does or does not - we know it does. The significance is what the PUBLIC thinks.

And here is a huge difference between the right and us -- they are reaching the public-at-large with their message and we are not.

So, in summary:

1) The right has an infrastructure that rewards and punishes their politicians and progressives do not.
2) The right's infrastructure has developed communication channels that reach out to the general public with demand-creation efforts and progressives have not.
3) The right has a movement-oriented funding system that stretches from top to bottom and progressives do not.

Dave Johnson, Seeing the Forest