Bad Actors

From time to time I rant about the Left’s stupid proclivity toward single-issue advocacy rather than working through coalitions or the Democratic Party. The most recent such rants are here and here.

Via Digby, Matt Stoller explains why it’s even dumber than I had thought. (emphasis added)

Every bill that comes before the House and Senate faces a clear set of right-wing pressure points. The first and most powerful one is the Republican K-Street Project, which can whip all Republicans very quickly and effectively in the House, and nearly as quickly in the Senate. This is the machine that forces Republicans to obey the wishes of a right-wing leadership class, through the carrot of cushy corporate jobs and the stick of vicious primary challenges from the Club for Growth.

On the Democratic side, the pressure is just as intense, but more subtle. When a bill is introduced, a network of consultants, most of whom have corporate clients, begin to chatter about how taking a liberal position could weaken the Democratic Party. This is supplemented with a strong PR strategy by right-wing temporary coalition groups who put out networks of surrogates and ads to create a powerfully framed environment. Then business lobbyists come and visit Congressional offices, and make threats, attempt legislative bribes, or put out false but extremely persuasive pieces of information. There is often little real counterpressure, because liberal single issue groups have decided not to hold politicians accountable and do not cooperate with each other on issues not directly related to their vertical.

Note to self: Do not donate money to any single-issue group ever again.

Within the Democratic party, resisting a bill is an exercise in holding the caucus together. The long minority status of the Democratic Party has allowed the development of bad faith actors within the caucus, who cut deals with right-wing groups and sabotage any possibility of resistance. Al Wynn is one such actor; Joe Lieberman is another. On key vote after key vote, these actors have sabotaged the progressive position through fake bipartisanship. It’s no surprise that Lieberman’s former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Enron; Lieberman himself is responsible for many of the corporate accounting scandals over the years because of his embrace of various financial lobbies.

Note to self: Volunteer to work for Ned Lamont in the general election.

One irony of the Lieberman race is that all the single-issue groups have endorsed Lieberman, and if you look at donations, so have the lobbyists. Indeed, this isn’t a fight between ‘the left’ and ‘the right’ as it is traditionally defined, since no one would put NARAL on the right or even in the center. This is about creating a disincentive towards bad faith actors and corrupt lobbyists on the left.

Note to self: Make a list of every single-issue group I have ever donated money to. Write them and ask for the money back.

The pervasive lack of accountability among Democrats is a real weakness for progressives, and the fact that there is some measure of accountability in the form of potential primary challenges means that there will be a behavioral change on the part of many members of Congress. No longer will they be able to listen to former staffers turned lobbyists, because they know that Lieberman’s example could be their own. No longer can they take for granted their safety in safe districts, because Donna Edwards isn’t the only principled and connected progressive around. And some of the tools and methodologies we’re developing can be used to effectively damage Republican candidates, as we saw with the internet’s mauling of George Allen after his macaca comments. Accountability works all around.

This, IMO, strengthens my argument that even if it were possible to elect third-party progressive candidates to Congress, they would prove to be just as ineffectual as the Dems have been for the past several years. It also strengthens my argument that single-issue advocacy groups are a big part of the reason why progressivism is dead in Washington.

Digby comments:

The consultants who work for Democrats also work for corporations and they consistently pitch progressive ideas as being “too liberal” not necessarily because they are, but because these consultants have a conflict of interest that either makes them unable to see things clearly — or that makes them corrupt. In any case, they are giving bad advice to the Democratic party and it’s resulted in nice fat paychecks for them. Serving the public, not so much.

Here’s the sad truth about the single-issue groups:

This brings me to the special interests in whom I had placed so much faith to counter such corruption. I had resisted joining in the critique of these groups because I thought they had some basis for playing both sides over the long term. But I thought they knew which side their bread was really buttered on, even so. Apparently not. Stoller describes them as having been co-opted by the corrupt system and lazily enjoying the fruits of the spoils like everyone else. I have to admit that even the most generous view shows they have lost sight of their own goals.

As Digby says, NARAL’s endorsements are evidence that the organization is either corrupted or clueless. NARAL endorses Lieberman; Digby is betting money that, if Lieberman is elected in November, he will change his stance on abortion. That’s not a bet I would take. See also Jane Hamsher’s post from last February on endorsements by NARAL and Planned Parenthood.

Now, I’ve had a problem with NARAL for a long time. This is not because I don’t support reproductive rights; it’s because NARAL has been, IMO, ineffectual in supporting reproductive rights. Back in the 1970s and 1980s I used to send them small donations; I stopped when I got tired of waiting to see anything from NARAL except solicitations for more donations. I’m not talking about results; I’m talking about effort. I couldn’t tell they were doing anything except sitting in their Washington offices with their heads up their butts. I was living in Ohio at the time, and I saw anti-choice propaganda and activity on a daily basis. And I could tell most of this stuff was being coordinated by large organizations, somewhere. But NARAL was invisible.

Planned Parenthood is another matter. They’re on the front lines; I admire them enormously. But they’re not primarily an advocacy group. They actually do stuff.

Here’s an interesting editorial from Buzzflash:

[W]hy are groups like the Sierra Club and Naral continuing to support Chafee, a Republican pawn of the Busheviks in the most Democratic of states?

We’d suggest follow the money.

Advocacy groups need contributions from wealthy “moderate” Republicans, so they need to show that they will support a Republican now and then, even if is counterproductive to achieving the mission of the groups.

It’s not a question of abandoning their “bi-partisan principles” if they were to oppose Chafee. To the contrary, they are abandoning their principles BY supporting him. They are just using a fig leaf of “bi-partisanship” to justify appealing to Republican “moderates,” mostly women, who give money to the organizations.

In other words, they are undermining their own purposes to get more donations, to do what? Undermine their own purposes some more?

See also this recent Paul Krugman column, “Centrism Is for Suckers.” Krugman points out that right-wing groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business engage in knee-jerk support for Republicans even on issues that are counterproductive to their causes. And they do this because in the long run keeping a Republican majority in Congress serves their interests. Krugman continues,

Now compare this with the behavior of advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, the environmental organization, and Naral, the abortion-rights group, both of which have endorsed Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, for re-election. The Sierra Club’s executive director defended the Chafee endorsement by saying, “We choose people, not parties.” And it’s true that Mr. Chafee has usually voted with environmental groups.

But while this principle might once have made sense, it’s just naïve today. Given both the radicalism of the majority party’s leadership and the ruthlessness with which it exercises its control of the Senate, Mr. Chafee’s personal environmentalism is nearly irrelevant when it comes to actual policy outcomes; the only thing that really matters for the issues the Sierra Club cares about is the “R” after his name.

Put it this way: If the Democrats gain only five rather than six Senate seats this November, Senator James Inhofe, who says that global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” will remain in his current position as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. And if that happens, the Sierra Club may well bear some of the responsibility.

Soon you’ll be getting fat envelopes full of pretty Christmas stickers and solicitations for money from these groups. Don’t give them any.

And let’s kick Joe Lieberman out of the Senate.

5 thoughts on “Bad Actors

  1. The Talking Dog has an interview that speaks well to the issues you raise here. A tidbit from the Dogspeak with George Lakoff:

    Right wing think tanks start with a concept– a consensus of core ideas– and then apply them everywhere. Progressives start with experts in individual fields, all separate, who never come together, and don’t respond to anything in any coherent way. They, of course, share principles, but these are primarily unconscious. CAP gets very, very good people. But the set-up is backwards. This is true, by the way, of virtually every progressive institution. All issues are separated into silos, and the silos then compete with each other. The results are fragmented. For the right, by contrast, an understanding of general conservative thought leads to unity.

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