I know, it sounds like hyperbole, but it isn't. It really, really isn't.
You and I and our friends in various progressive organizations are going to leave a mark on American politics. The last time we saw this kind of quantum leap in populist empowerment was probably 2002-3 when Howard Dean -- with an assist from the nascent blogosphere -- reminded us all, "You have the power."
Until now, Dean's insight has occasionally borne fruit, but our victories -- victories that could not have happened without bloggers'/activists' agitprop and organization -- have been infrequent.
- We stopped a Democratic debate on the Fox News network.
- We exposed and forced the resignation of James Guckert, aka Jeff Gannon.
- We defeated Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary.
I may have missed a few more, but the point is that for all of Howard Dean's encouragement, and all of our enthusiasm and engagement... well... Politics has been hard for us. We've lost too frequently when we should have won.
- While the Iraq war ground on through 70% disapproval in the polls, a Democratic-led House and Senate continued to pass war-funding resolutions with no strings attached;
- Democrats caved to George Bush on telecom immunity;
- Democrats allowed Bush and his cronies to defy Congressional subpoenas;
- Democrats passed a miserably drafted TARP bailout;
Not to mention -- and I know this is difficult to face, but it's true: Democrats are every bit as susceptible to wasteful earmark spending and ethical lapses as their Republican colleagues. It's already gotten some of our favorite leaders into mildly hot water.
(One last pet peeve: the "Ethics Truce" seems to be immutable. Even after Democrats ran against the "Culture of Corruption", they've done nothing to hold any of their fellow House Members accountable for grave ethical breeches. That, as much as anything else, proves the folly of blind party loyalty. Democrats may be "better than the alternative," but their house is not in order by a long shot.)
Anyway, I've taken much too much time to get to the point: with the formation of Accountability Now PAC, progressives have developed a tool that provides the ability to set standards and, in some cases, exact accountability when our elected leaders fall short.
Full disclosure: I've had conversations with ANP regarding fundraising for them. I've developed an idea that I'm hoping to roll out on their behalf; in exchange, I expect that I would be paid for my work. As of now, there is no agreement. With that said, I began discussions with the leaders of ANP because I had settled on idea of organized accountability through the primary process on my own. While I was in the initial stages of researching the feasibility of the project, a friend told me about ANP. All of this is to say that regardless of how things pan out in terms of any business relationship that may develop, I believe in the ANP mission whole-heartedly and without reservation.
So let me take you under the hood; let me make the case for why this is the next epochal change in the evolution of on-line politics.
First some background (in case you haven't clicked the link yet).
ANP will raise money to challenge (for now, mostly Democratic) incumbents at the primary stage. Money will be spent identifying, developing and funding progressive challengers to incumbent officeholders that have established a record of prioritizing the corporate agenda at the expense of their constituents' best interests. ANP will be selective and discriminating in executing their mission; the idea that some districts are more conservative than others is not lost to them. If you are looking for an example of what ANP will do, look no further than Lamont in '06 or Donna Edwards in '06/'08. In both cases, the incumbents (Lieberman and Wynn, respectively) repeatedly betrayed the Democrats that elected them. In both cases, the primary process was utilized to marginalize (and in the case of Wynn, ultimately defeat) the incumbent.
Realize this: until Republicans ran their gravy train off the rails in '06 and '08, incumbents enjoyed a re-election rate that approached or exceeded 95%. Once elected, officeholders had very little reason to keep their doors open to constituent concerns. It was a lot more fun to go golfing with the lobbyists. Best of all? These same lobbyists were going to keep your campaign war-chest topped off at all times... so long as you were diligent in doing what they asked you to do.
Then came 2006.
When Lieberman lost his primary, a shiver ran up and down the spines of every elected official in Washington (except, perhaps, the completely oblivious George Bush). When Edwards turned out Wynn, the shiver returned with a vengeance.
And that is the stroke of genius that will make ANP a force in Washington.
Put simply, a primary isn't necessary to exact better behavior from our elected officials. The threat of a primary is sufficient. To the extent that ANP exists to substantiate that threat, incumbents are now saddled with a new weight on the scales when they have to choose between doing the right thing by the people that elected them or dancing to the tune of their corporate benefactors.
OK, I knew you wouldn't, so here's a snip:
So far, Pelosi and her leadership team seem determined to protect Tauscher and her 60 New Democrats -- up from 47 before the election. In fact, the day after Working for Us, the new progressive political action committee, targeted Tauscher, Pelosi sought her out at a caucus meeting and assured her: "I'm not going to let this happen." House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) spent 20 minutes complaining to Working for Us founder Steve Rosenthal, who swiftly removed the hit list of "Worst Offenders" from the group's Web site.
Said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly: "We want to protect our incumbents. That's what we're about."
Democratic leaders want their activists to focus on beating Republicans. But the grass roots and Net roots believe the political tide is shifting their way, and they can provide the money, ground troops and buzz to challenge Democratic incumbents they don't like. MoveOn.org had two Bay Area chapters before the election; now it has 15, and they could all go to work against Tauscher in a primary. "Absolutely, we could take her out," said Markos Moulitsas Zúniga -- better known as Kos -- the Bay Area blogger behind the influential Daily Kos site.
Tauscher was reelected with 68 percent of the vote, but she said she takes this threat seriously; she has already used it in fundraising appeals. And though she has always highlighted her independence -- shortly before the election, she warned Democrats not to "go off the left cliff" -- she's now emphasizing her party loyalty.
She was once the only California Democrat to oppose Pelosi's campaign for leadership, but she now marvels that the speaker's performance has been "absolutely perfect -- and she looks so beautiful doing it!" Tauscher's Web site no longer features photos of her with Bush or Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), who lost a Democratic primary of his own last year but won reelection as an independent.
Why are they going after Ellen Tauscher?
She has annoyed the left by supporting legislation to scale back the estate tax, tighten bankruptcy rules and promote free-trade agreements. She served as vice chair of the pro-business Democratic Leadership Council, which many liberal activists dismiss as a quasi-Republican K Street front group. And she voted to authorize the Iraq war, although she did so with caveats, and she was quick to express her displeasure with its execution.
We learned in 2006 how the very idea of a primary challenge could immediately change behavior. When blue dog Ellen Tauscher started complaining about the "liberal" committee chairmen who were going to be problematic, people on the blogs and in her community started talking about a primary challenge. Tauscher moved immediately to the left, joined the Out of Iraq caucus, and stopped having her picture taken with George Bush.
- Media is relatively cheap in primary season: a little bit of money from a challenger goes a long way.
- Time pressures: time spent defending your flank is time you cannot spend raising money from lobbyist and corporate allies.
- The truth hurts: do you really think an incumbent in a blue district want his or her constituents to know that they voted against, oh.. say... foreclosure reform? Or for telecom immunity?
Of course, there are many other reasons incumbents live in fear of primaries, but how many do we need? If primaries are the avenue to better representation, then let's have more of them. And if the threat of a primary is every bit as effective as the real thing... well, all the better for us.
Of course, as ANP moves with caution and prudence, choosing their targets based upon a matrix of record crossed with vulnerability, we may very well win a race or two here and there (i.e, Donna Edwards). And of course, every time that happens, we move the entire Congress a couple of iotas in the direction of the American people.
We all know that the political discourse in this country has been hijacked by a beltway elite whose ideology more closely aligns with that of John Thain, Newt Gingrich and Joe Lieberman than it does with the great unwashed out here in the hinterlands of America. In truth, the Overton Window has been pulled far to the right. ANP will counter that phenomenon by changing the nature of Congress.
It will take a while, but the process will grind on.
And think about it: with every election of a new progressive, you get one more vote for the environment, for choice, for social justice, for animal rights, for clean energy, for sane drug policy, for etc. etc. etc.
Yes, I'm ramping up to something here: an ask.
The fact of the matter is that every one of us is driven by a particular set of concerns. There are as many avenues to progressive politics as there are progressive causes. Some of us are used to contributing money to the Sierra Club. Others have prioritized NARAL or Emily's List or Planned Parenthood. Many of us loves us some Russ Feingold. Others think the DNC needs our discretionary spending. Still others send money to BlogPAC (where I am Director of Activism).
Let me suggest something to you.
ANP is a organization that will further the aims of everyone of the aforementioned groups. Every one of them.
So yeah... It's time for us to get behind ANP. Many of your respected colleagues (Jane Hamsher, Glenn Greenwald, Nate Silver and of course, Kos) are leading the effort. Several respected organizations (Color of Change, SEIU, MoveOn, BlogPAC, the Steelworkers) have examined the model and found it worth their investment. I hope you will find likewise.
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