11/16/2009 12:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Democrats Going Rogue

We don't need intercepted dispatches to know there are intense discussions going on now about our national policy -- the marching orders are posted for all to see. In the past couple of weeks, Markos Moulitsas has openly instructed the followers of his blog, the DailyKos, against donating to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

"If you've got money to give to House races, give directly to those who are fighting for effective reform, not to organizations that will use your money to undermine everything we've been fighting for." [October 30, 2009]

"Here's the bottom line -- skip any donations to the DCCC. Their first priority is incumbent retention, and they're (necessarily) issue agnostic. They'll be dumping millions into defending these seats [of vulnerable moderates.] Instead, give to those elected officials who best reflect your values." [November 9, 2009]

As a response to the House Democrats' passage of a health care reform including a "public option" Kos wants to use his influence to defund the party campaign committee designed to funnel resources to the most marginal districts (in preference for direct funds from Kos readers for relatively safe liberal incumbents). Other groups like and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) which has declared "payback time" for the Blue Dog Democrats are raising funds and running political attack ads against moderate Democrats, and websites like Fire Dog Lake are announcing boycotts of other Democratic Party Committees. These efforts are tantamount to a Declaration of War between the liberal net roots and the moderates who, like any other faction of at least 40 votes or so, mean the difference between majority and minority in the House.

No Less of an Insult
The maneuvering by Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) to codify and extend the Hyde Amendment ban on federal funds for abortion into the House health Bill, forcing pro-choice Democrats to choose between their desire to pass health care reform and their fidelity to the cause of reproductive freedom, was no less an act of disrespect by one faction of the coalition that swept the Democrats into power against another. That the Stupak deal for health reform placed additional stress on the fresh fissures of the 2008 campaign was probably not lost on any family that, like ours, was divided last year between Obama and Clinton supporters.

Not surprisingly, feminist leaders like Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling are now issuing their own threats. In a Monday New York Times OpEd they write:

"If Democrats do not commit themselves to defeating the [Stupak] amendment, then they will face an uncompromising effort by Democratic women to defeat them, regardless of the cost to the party's precious majority."

The lesson every progressive interest group learned from last weekend in the Capitol was that it has become every man or woman for his or her self. If you believe in women's rights, you have to fight every day for women's rights, and the same is true if your issue is gay rights, immigrant rights, or labor rights. One year after uniting to achieve an historic victory, the whole Obama coalition is going rogue.

Most Wars Have no Winners
In a recent article, we asked if Obama could unite the left and center of the Democratic Party, but this one dimensional analysis is becoming an over-simplification as the party threatens to splinter into a larger number of smaller factions. This would be nothing new -- we are Democrats after all -- but the vehemence of the splits, the level of anger and frustration being expressed in online communities, and especially crossing the line to raise funds to run ads against other Democrats, has brought the poisonous win-at-all-costs attitude to a new level.

History's great lesson is that most wars have no winners, and right now a substantial part of the Democratic Party is at war with other Democrats. Many are writing that they would rather be in a smaller purer party, and sadly, they may get their wish. Looking at the world from a single issue perspective it is easy to believe that "our side" loses nothing by defeating Democratic representatives that cast a vote against "our issue" but the list of Democrats who vote the "wrong way" changes from issue to issue. "Villains" on health care reform, can be "heroes" on climate change and vice versa - so should we punish every Democrat that does not have a 100% "correct" voting record or are some issues like health care reform, more important than others, such as fighting against global warming or for abortion rights?

A Certain Symmetry
Of course there is symmetry here with right-wing purists that knocked the moderate Republican nominee out of the race, giving the New York 23rd CD to a Democrat and who, fortunately, are threatening to campaign against Republican moderates again in 2010. Perhaps the greatest frustration is that even a huger than expected loss in the next election would be unlikely to teach the Democrats any meaningful lessons. We just had an election and within hours each of the leading voices in the public square was ready with an analysis that the election returns proved that their analysis before the election was even more true. If any bloggers changed their view based on the new evidence from the 2009 voting, please send us the link. Until then we remain confident that even if Democrats suffer heavy losses in 2010, perhaps even losing effective control of both chambers, all sides will see it as further evidence that their side has been right all along.

Real Leadership Needed
The real question here is "Where is the leadership to stop this fighting?" and if the answer is not, "In the White House" then we are all in a lot of trouble. Ronald Reagan also faced declining ratings and persistent unemployment heading into a mid-term election, but he was able to enforce an "11th commandment" for the Republican Party, "Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican." This White House needs to show it has the strength to really lead the party.

What is needed is for the party's leaders to present a united front. Barack Obama with Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Rahm Emmanuel at his side, needs to invite Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and all of the Democratic Hill leadership, the leaders of the Party committees, leaders of the caucuses and voting blocks on the Hill and the leaders of all of the key interest groups; labor, women, civil rights, environmentalists, the net roots, etc to a retreat away from Washington. The purpose would be to insist on civility and respect despite disagreements. President Obama needs to remind any that would call themselves his supporters that he leads a Democratic party where "we can disagree without being disagreeable."

Some yoga or meditation might help. As the venerable Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn has asked in his book "True Love":

"Let us imagine that the members of the Congress practiced mindful breathing and walking, deep listening, and calm loving speech. As it is, every time they convene, they quarrel and shoot poison arrows, because very few of those people are capable of calming, or practicing loving speech. The situation is very tense; there is a great deal of hatred and anger and discrimination. How is it possible, in such a state, for people to practice deep looking with the aim of achieving a deep knowledge of the nation?"

Sure this vision sounds radical, but remember, we all proudly represent the Kumbaya wing of the Democratic Party.