Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Matt Stoller Headshot

The Progressive Convulsions Start

Posted: Updated:

With the announcement that Lieberman is going to give the Democratic radio response to Bush on Walter Reed, it's pretty well confirmed that progressives are shut out of the Congressional halls of power.  First it was Feingold's defunding proposal being poleaxed, then Hoyer winning the Majority Leader contest, then it was Murtha's plan sandbagged by Blue Dogs, then it was Reid allowing Fox News as the anchor for the Nevada Presidential debate, then it was Joe Biden and Carl Levin failing to do anything substantive on Iraq, and now it's a full-throated embrace of Lieberman.  And yes, this was Harry Reid's choice.

From what I understand from talking to a few progressives on the Hill, the freshmen in Congress are being extensively 'trained' by Rahm Emanuel's DLC band of consultants and pollsters, which is one reason they've been silent.  Carol Shea-Porter is an exception, and notice how she was shut out of the DCCC's front line program.  Also notice how our only real specific policy concern to protect our own ability to organize - net neutrality - just isn't really on the legislative radar right now (though this could change).

If you're mad, well, so am I.  But we didn't beat Lieberman, and that was the real test of strength where we went up against both the Democrats, the Republicans, and the lobbyists.  And we consistently gave Democrats a free pass in the first few months after the victory, allowing Rahm and Hoyer to consolidate power.  More to the point, we haven't been around for very long, so our institutional reach is nowhere near as capable as that of the DLC nexis, who have been operating and projecting power since the mid eighties.  My business Democrat friends are happy and very busy, as are my contacts in foreign policy elite circles.  They just love the new Congress.

The reality though is that the centrists, though they are in charge, are exceptionally weak.  It is only an accident of history that they are in power.  They have no real base, and have essentially convinced progressive voters to grab a big cup of STFU while they use their media connections and corporate cash to feel like they are in charge again.  This won't last long, two years at the most.  It's already ending, as the reality of Iraq is looming, most prominently on Hillary Clinton, but really on all of them.  Meanwhile, progressives are beginning to build their institutional capacity to craft policy and market it.

Michael Roston has an important scoop at Raw Story on this.



Consensus-seeking negotiations on a measure that would limit President Bush's troop escalation in Iraq have angered Congressional Progressives. RAW STORY has learned that they are readying a response that will call for a more rapid withdrawal of US troops from America's four year-long war.

A Democratic aide close to the Congressional Progressive Caucus told RAW STORY that some Democrats will push for withdrawal when the next bill on Iraq War funding comes to the House floor.

"There is a plan for a whip operation, to get votes for an amendment that will say that any money spent will go toward a fully funded withdrawal," the aide explained. "We can't support the idea of having a $150 billion Supplemental [Defense Appropriations bill] that gives $100 billion for the escalation."

This is perhaps the first time that the progressive caucus has flat-out said they may derail a bill, which is something that the Blue Dogs and/or the New Dems usually do.  Good for them.  It's going to split the party, but that's a split we can handle.  We should welcome having Democrats put their cards on the table, since that's a nice way of making Iraq a voting issue in primaries, where the public has an actual chance to debate and take action.  If the progressive caucus makes this happen, it would be a serious and important blow to the centrist reign of power.

On the Senate side, Max Baucus may just be the symbol of corporate greed that gets a primary challenge.  He's the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and screwed around with the minimum wage bill until he got tax breaks for business.  Read this article, and it will disgust you.  On every key economic issue, Baucus is a Republican.  That's very out of step with Montana, whose legislature just passed a resolution expressing opposition to the Fast Track authority Baucus loves.

And then there's this.

Max is organizing a big old meeting with a bunch of corporate representatives to discuss fast track. While his staff assure me that the corporate folks are being treated no better than the labor folks were (we're setting the bar awfully low here, guys), I thought this info that landed in my inbox this morning was helpful.

The five main speakers at this Democratic Policy Conference have a decidedly pro-GOP giving history:



    Cargill

   2003-2004

    Republicans: $154,385 (77%)

    Democrats: $46,115 (23%)

    Total: $200,500

   2005-2006

    Republicans: $174,590 (79%)

    Democrats: $46,410 (21%)

    Total: $221,000

   Caterpillar

   2003-2004

    Republicans: $278,476.55 (89%)

    Democrats: $34,418.45 (11%)

   2005-2006

    Republicans: $398,362.44 (84%)

    Democrats: $75,878.56 (16%)

    Total:  $474,241

   Kodak

   2003-2004

    Republicans: $88,875 (75%)

    Democrats: $29,625 (25%)

    Total: $118,500

   2005-2006

    Republicans: $89,979.75 (63%)

    Democrats: $52,845.25 (37%)

    Total: $142,825

   New York Life

   2004-2005

    Republicans: $257,040 (54%)

    Democrats: $218,960 (46%)

    Total: $476,000

   2005-2006

    Republicans: $517,951.75 (47%)

    Democrats: $573,053 (52%)

    Total:  $1,102,025

   Wal-Mart

   2003-2004

    Republicans: $1,308,060 (78%)

    Democrats: $368,940 (22%)

   2005-2006

    Republicans: $1,013,223.96 (71%)

    Democrats: $413,852.04 (29%)

This is the equivalent of having the GOP invite NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NOW guide their policy on choice.  It just doesn't happen.  But in Max Baucus's world, this is fine, and it's really a simple matter of him wanting campaign donations from business elites.  

Baucus's grip on the Senate caucus's economic policies is quite firm, and Lieberman's grip on the Senate caucus's foreign policy is understated as well.  It's not because Reid and Schumer have to listen to Joe, it's because they want an excuse to do nothing.  They don't need 60 votes to stop emergency funding; the Republicans need 60 votes to pass it without conditions.  This is not a non-binding resolution, this is something the Bush administration needs.

Anyway, as Washington DC centrists fiddle and the Republicans act like sociopathic teenagers, the public (and the netroots) are becoming increasingly angry.  Only Nancy Pelosi and progressives who oppose Bush and this war are liked out in the country at large.  

I'm somewhat at a loss as to how to work on the Iraq issue, and I think many progressives are in a similar situation.  But the reality is that insider negotiating strategies will run into a wall of contempt for us and the public that is unbreakable from the inside.  It's up to us, as it was in 2002, 2004, and 2006, to tear down this wall.  And we will.  They are weak because they are wrong and the public is with us.

Now it's just an organizing problem.