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David Sirota Headshot

Should We Be Surprised?

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A question in the aftermath of Chairman Lieberman's heroic return to the welcoming arms of the Senate Democratic club: Should we be surprised?

No, really, this is a serious question.

With its congressional majority, the Democratic Party has refused to seriously try to end the war, to stop the bailout and to stop the trampling of civil liberties, just to name a few off the top of my head. In fact, with their votes, they have aggressively worked to start and continue the war, pass the bailout and destroy our constitutional rights to privacy. So, are we really surprised that they have rewarded Joe Lieberman with a chairmanship that he can use to investigate the president he said poses a danger to America?

As gross as the Senate statement celebrating the demise of "the Left" is, there's a truth in the part where the aide says progressives "can rant and rage but they still do not put the fear into folks to actually change their votes." That truth is that the progressive movement - as independent from the Democratic Party - is still incredibly weak.

Because so much organizing under the banner of the "progressive movement" is - in reality - electoral organizing on behalf of the Democratic Party, there's very little independent leverage over that Democratic Party, especially in non-election periods. As just one example, when, for instance, Moveon.org gets swallowed whole by the Obama campaign and turned into just another Internet appendage of that campaign, a group like Moveon.org subsequently has no real independent leverage over the Democratic Party because Moveon has trained its own members to believe participation in Moveon - and in the "progressive movement" - is always synonymous with reflexively supporting Democratic leaders (by the way, I cite this not to pick on Moveon - this is the basic construct of many progressive organizations, but I use Moveon just to give an example we can all relate to).

So, in many ways, the public attacks on "the Left" from congressional Democrats - while motivated from their Reagan-era cultural hatred of Dirty Fucking Hippies - is to be completely expected from a party that has failed to deliver on every major progressive promise it has made, and has nonetheless faced no real retribution. It is par for the course from leaders who quite understandably feel little fear from a still-weak progressive movement.

They believe - with justifiable reason - that come election time we'll all forget their failings, whether failing to end the war or failing to disempower Lieberman. They believe that most "progressive movement" activists will actually do what they did during the last election - berate anyone who floats the idea that movement organizing and carrot-and-stick treatment of the Democratic Party during election time is actually a good thing. They believe, in short, that come 2010, we'll all fall in line and be an ATM machine of partisan campaign contributions and candidate volunteer time because we are still very much organized as a party, not a movement.

And here's the thing: Except for a few fleeting primaries, most of recent history suggests their calculation is right.

If we want to avoid this kind of thing in the future, we better understand why this happened. Because if we don't, and somehow still expect "change we can believe in," we're epitomizing Albert Einstein's "definition of insanity" - we're "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."