5 Pitfalls for Progressives to Avoid in 2006

Angry is not an answer There’s a myth out there that Democrats should be angrier. If they could just be nasty like the Republicans, and get their hands just as dirty, the Democrats would win. Wrong. It’s hope that wins elections. And sometimes fear. Never anger. Democrats lose not from being soft, but because they don’t yet offer a clear and proactive enough alternative. Which brings us to the next pitfall. Bush bashing After five years, the point is made. Everyone convincible is convinced. Those content to deem the president a smirking chimp, a dry drunk, a bumbling moron or — more politely — the worst or most dangerous president in history have had their moment. Duly noted. But Bush is still president, and about half the country supports him. It’s not enough to point fingers. Democrats and progressives must make a counteroffer to the American people. Talking politics for one week without ever mentioning the word Bush would be a good start. Can you do it? Knee-jerking to the left If it were as simple as that, why did Dennis Kucinich get only 3 percent of the Democratic primary vote? Even the more moderate (but somewhat angrier) Howard Dean never polled much more than 25 percent among Democrats. Talk about “restoring the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” means nothing to anyone who understands history. What Democratic wing? The oily-slick centrist Bill Clinton? The conservative Jimmy Carter? LBJ and his war machine? JFK’s Cold War? Truman’s national security state? FDR, maybe — but who other than your granny remembers? An effective Democratic Party in 2006 and 2008 has to be something very different than any previous incarnation. Not more leftist nor more centrist, but more populist. More bottom than top. Which does mean leftward on economic issues. Organized labor must be a driving force for the party and not just a convenient GOTV operation. On cultural and security issues, however, the party must be more in sync with mainstream sentiment. That doesn’t mean moving to the right. It means moving downward; finding public icons other than movie stars and radio clowns might be a start. The Democrats must be a party that can be for authentic political reform in more than name only. Talking about defending the little guy while bathing in Big Money ain’t gonna cut it. Leaving the anti-war movement leaderless A few weeks ago, the more reasonable sectors of the anti-war movement finally severed their alliance with the bonkerist-loonies from A.N.S.W.E.R. A good move, but also four years late. Since 9/11, the tiny A.N.S.W.E.R. sect dominated the logistics of America’s massive peace demonstrations and helped keep the movement on the margins. This didn’t so much taint the overall message as it did block a broader coalition from taking the leadership. Anyway, good riddance to these folks whose leader — Ramsey Clark — recently showed up on national TV to defend Saddam. This is a good time for religious and labor leaders to re-found the anti-war movement with the vocabulary and strategies that will resonate broadly. Progressives must also remember that being anti-war isn’t necessarily the same as supporting the slogan “Out Now.” Leaners and wobblers should be encouraged and not shunned. Politics is all about the art of building coalitions — not about enforcing purity. Hillary Clinton The most that can be hoped for with a Clinton candidacy is that her deeply polarizing effect will cleave off a 51 percent majority for the Democrats. A shaky bet in itself. And that’s before we get into the more pungent area of what she does or does not stand for. How about a Democratic candidate that has broad, positive appeal across partisan lines? Who is the Democratic John McCain? No need to answer today. But better start thinking about it soon or it will be McCain.

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