I was asked recently to write the September edition of the Washington Spectator - the national bi-weekly progressive newsletter that claims almost 100,000 paid subscribers. The topic is the 2006 election and its implications for the Democratic Party. Obviously, it is impossible to know the full picture before the election happens - but as you can see in the article I produced (and that was released today), we can already see some concrete ramifications for the party, regardless of outcome.
Let's just cut through the nonsense and the rhetoric and be brutally honest for a moment: Other than a few key exceptions among specific candidates (Brown, Tester, Lamont, etc.), Democrats right now are running a business as usual campaign. That is, the themes they are running on are not grounded in challenging the current power structure or indicting what most Americans innately understand is a broken political system.
This isn't to say that we should hope Democrats lose or that they do not represent real change - I'm doing everything I can to help create a Democratic majority because it's clear a Democratic win would represent change on a whole host of key issues from Iraq to trade. Additionally, as I note in the piece, if Democrats do win, the specific lawmakers in line to take over key committees are among the administration's biggest critics, and among the most ideologically progressive in Congress.
But consider this passage in my new Washington Spectator piece:
"There are troubling signs that the party isn't serious about reforming America's money-dominated politics. Many working-class swing voters are still suspicious of a Democratic Party that promised not to sell them out, and then supported President Clinton's alliance with big business to pass economically destabilizing 'free trade' deals. But that doesn't seem to matter to the Beltway's Democratic elites. That voters would be supporting Democrats in 2006 with the specific expectation of reform hardly seems to register with many of the party's Washington insiders. The arrogance is stunning.
"Here you have a national political party righteously hammering its opponents' "culture of corruption." Here you have a national party standing at the threshold of an Internet revolution that has shown itself more than capable of democratizing political fundraising by taking in huge sums of money, in small contributions, all without the usual expectation of cronyish legislative favors. And yet here is that same national party bragging to reporters that it is focused on doing everything it can to milk the corporate teat as effectively as Republicans...
At the same time that leading Democrats have been publicly berating the GOP for corruption, they have been privately ramping up their own corporate fund-raising operations, and large numbers of Democratic lawmakers have provided the critical votes to pass some of big business's most sought-after prizes. The energy bill, the bankruptcy bill, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the class-action "reform" bill--all of these were written by the industries they benefit, and all required the support of key Democratic legislators in order to pass."
I go on to point out examples where more and more Democratic politicians and operatives in Washington are talking out of both sides of their mouths, apparently still believing in a paradigm "that most directly insults voters: that Democrats can say one thing, do another, and still win elections."
The problem, as Thomas Frank so eloquently put it in the New York Times recently, is that "Mounting a campaign against plutocracy makes as much sense to the typical Washington liberal as would circulating a petition against gravity." Today, Democratic insiders in Washington feel more comfortable "maintain[ing] their present course, gaming out each election with political science and a little triangulation magic, their relevance slowly ebbing as memories of the middle-class republic fade."
What this really means is that while the 2006 election is important, the fight against the hostile takeover of our government and for truly changing the direction of our country is just beginning - whether Democrats win or lose. No, I'm sorry folks - we are not going to suddenly have a progressive government if the Democratic Party suddenly won Congress and then the presidency. Yes, we would have a more progressive government than we have now. But our fight to support, embolden and carry over the goal line actual progressive public policies is in its infancy.
Why discuss any of this now, just two months before election day? Because it's important for the progressive movement to have realistic expectations. If everyone expects everything to dramatically change the day after Democrats win on election day - and then it doesn't - the progressive movement will arguably be severely damaged as many will believe the lyrics from The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." They will believe that "the new boss is the same as the old boss" - and the next time we gear up for an election, many will say it just ain't worth it.
Each congressional campaign is a step in the movement - each election is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. Regardless of what happens on November 7th, the fight between the Big Money insiders in Washington and the grassroots forces outside the Beltway will continue - both within the Democratic Party and throughout the broader political system. And if the progressive movement is strong enough to reject Partisan War Syndrome and embrace true movement psychology, we ultimately will see a change not just in which offices which set of politicians gets on Capitol Hill - but in the actual policies that govern America.
(DISCLOSURE: I have long been a volunteer supporter of Ned Lamont's candidacy and written extensively about the race. As of Labor Day, I am officially working with the Lamont for Senate campaign on research. The work on this blog is my own, and not the official work I do for the Lamont campaign.)