Lessons on the Left

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Obama Administration

Here are a couple of good articles at Lawyers, Guns and Money that are worth your time. Erik Loomis writes,

I would like to think that we on the left actually do understand history. We do not. There is a clear path to change. Conservatives understand this. You take over the party structure. That’s what they did in the 1950s and 1960s when they were disgusted by the moderate Republicanism of Dwight Eisenhower, Earl Warren, and Nelson Rockefeller. They took over party structures and local offices and turned them into bastions of energized conservatism. Note that conservatives basically don’t run 3rd party campaigns. Libertarians might talk about doing this–but they almost all vote Republican in the end because they know that they are moving their agenda forward by doing so.

Any reading of history shows that change within the American political system does not come through third party campaigns. It comes through the hard work of organizing our communities to demand change. Eventually legal and political changes are necessary–but only after people are organized to demand them. Look at the major movements in the last century. The labor movement, African-American civil rights, the women’s movement, gay rights movement. Each of these movements spent decades (or a century) organizing for change. For each of them, there was a moment when it all came together and they could demand transformations of federal and state law, which for gay rights is happening right now.

Note that not a single one of these transformational social movements used a third party mechanism as an important strategy.

It seems that every other year or so some progressive comes up with the bright idea of organizing a third party, as if such a thing has never been tried before. In fact, there have been many strong efforts to create a third party, beginning about 1830 or so. In the 19th century there were more alternative parties than you can shake a stick at. Yet there are only two nationally dominant parties at a time, although not the same ones. That we remain stuck with two, and only two, nationally dominant parties has to do with the way we hold elections, and until that changes, we’ve got two parties.

The other thing that has saddened me terribly is the way so many people turned their backs on President Obama almost as soon as he was elected. Some didn’t even wait for him to be inaugurated. A lot of those were disgruntled Hillary supporters. But it was naive to think that all we had to do was elect a Dem president and then sit back and wait for him to fix everything in the first half of the first term.

I went back and read the post I wrote after the election in 2008, saying that electing Obama was just the beginning of the fight. I think it holds up pretty well.

Erik Loomis is right; the Left doesn’t understand history and doesn’t understand how to play the long game. That’s why can’t get ahead of the Right. And the fact is, the Dems in the past couple of years have become tougher and more united, and as this campaign has shown they are no longer shy about standing firmly on controversial social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. This is a tangible change from where they were four years ago. We need to build on that.

Scott Lemieux also addresses the issue of third parties, plus see his piece at TAP.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Iosue  •  Nov 5, 2012 @2:57 pm

    The way I’ve been putting it is that what is at stake in this election is not WHO becomes president, but in WHAT direction we want the Overton window to go. And that doesn’t happen overnight, or in four years.

    You can be both supportive of Obama and critical of him at the same time. The notion of some kind of ideological purity is narcisstic BS. It is selfish to think “I want to cast my vote for the candidate that matches best MY beliefs”–the vote should be cast for what one thinks is best for the whole country. ITS NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!

    Anyway, my own ramble about this voting third party nonsense: http://examined-life.tumblr.com/post/34757098591/the-us-presidential-election-and-the-overton-window

  2. Tom_B  •  Nov 5, 2012 @4:03 pm

    The GOP always pushes for the extreme. They end up with candidates who want forced pregnancy for rape victims. We on the Left need to be more assertive, clearer about what we want, more politically active. We HAVE become more unified, and less shy about expressing our positions, and that’s a great start.

  3. joanr16  •  Nov 5, 2012 @4:32 pm

    I think some folks just love the emotional drama of the hopeless cause, as if they’re living their own full-time road production of “Les Miserables.” Which I would totally do also, if I could have Hugh Jackman as the hero of mine. But alas, no.

    There are myriad cliches that apply here: art of the possible, change is incremental, yada yada yada, but what the drama-junkies forget is that cliches spring from repeatedly-proven experience.

  4. Pat  •  Nov 5, 2012 @5:09 pm

    Sometimes leftees seem just a susceptible to cult of personality as rightees. There’s a lot of “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good going around.” When one can’t get what they want then working for the next best thing without a tantrum is more rational than taking one’s toys and going home.

  5. c u n d gulag  •  Nov 5, 2012 @5:27 pm

    While the right acts like ants in their ‘army,’ marching relentlessly wherever the leaders tell them, I’m reminded of the classic line about Democrats – ‘Trying to get them together, is like trying to herd cats.”

    The right can focus on God and Country – and everything else, from guns, to abortion, to the military, to education, to torture, to whatever ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ they want, can fit handilly into those two categories.
    Democrats aren’t as easy.
    We have a big tent, not one full of clowns, like the Republicans.
    And, while not every Republican is a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and/or homophobe, virtually EVERY racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and/or homophobe is a Republican.

    And if you’re thinking about voting for someone other than President Obama and the Democrats, believing it’ll bring some Liberal Renaissance, just remember this – fish don’t make and tie the lures that hook them.

  6. justme277  •  Nov 5, 2012 @8:44 pm

    O-M-G I am all atwitter! The boss, Michelle and Barrack are just RIGHT up the street from where I live in Des Moines…this is way more exciting than a mountain lion in my neighborhood!..

    This is the ONE reason I hate to see the election be over. I really like it when Obama comes to town. neener neener I got Obama!:))

  7. Tom B  •  Nov 5, 2012 @9:00 pm

    Justme: well, I got to see Michelle here in NC – not O or the Boss, though….

  8. Philo Vaihinger  •  Nov 6, 2012 @8:55 am

    They made everybody read Any Rand.

    Who do we make them read?

    Too bad Michael Harrington wasn’t a novelist.

    Jack London? John Steinbeck?

  9. maha  •  Nov 6, 2012 @10:46 am

    Who do we make them read?

    That’s a really interesting question. Of course, being a liberal, I wouldn’t “make” anybody read anything. But if I could, what would it be? Maybe Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Or the Metta Sutta.

  10. JR  •  Nov 6, 2012 @1:24 pm

    That is a really interesting question. As a Floridian I didn’t really start paying attention to this stuff until 2000 so my political literary experience is shallow. But Conservatives Without Conscience explained to me what is was and What’s the Matter with Kansas explained to me how they use it. Those two began my education process.

  11. moonbat  •  Nov 6, 2012 @1:54 pm

    I am expecting a Jack London or a John Steinbeck to come forward – several of them actually – to write about this, casting similar ideas into language and scenes for our time. Charles Dickens did much the same for his milieu, but trying to read Dickens is almost like reading Shakespeare at this point, it’s a chore because he’s become pretty far removed from the present context.

    There are already minor attempts at this – you see ads for these types of novels, self-published, on sites like Daily Kos from time to time.

    I don’t really expect this kind of thing to take off in earnest until things really fall apart in this country, until the idea that America as we knew it is over, and this is widely accepted by the population, and that fascism has taken root for good, for the forseeable future. This particular election is way too close for comfort; this in itself is a very ominous sign. The fascists hopefully will fail in 2012, but I expect them to win in 2016.

    Of course, I’d much rather have America as I knew it, up and running, robust and healthy, and would gladly give up great literature and many other things to see that happen, but I just don’t think it’s in the cards, given the way-too-close nature of this race.

    For now, I’d point anyone to Jack London’s The Iron Heel. Great, concise writing, that really opened my eyes. Still very readable if a bit out of date.



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