Never mind that George W. Bush won re-election by 4 million
votes. Or that Democrats lost in 28 out of 50 states. Or that more than a third
of Latino votes went to the Republicans. And that something like 40 percent
of union votes went Republican.
Don’t worry — be happy. “We are truly stronger than ever.”
I know that because the liberal political action group MoveOn wrote me to tell
me so. Indeed, it was so darn pleased with itself and so amped up after a pre-Thanksgiving,
coast-to-coast round of house meetings that the follow-up report issued by MoveOn
quoted one participant as jubilantly proclaiming: “A groundswell is happening.”
Yessir. One more groundswell like that of the last month and MoveOn
and the rest of us can start carrying out our meetings inside submarines. Please,
for the moment, no more little ripples, let alone a groundswell.
Just the title alone under which the meetings took place is enough
to make you scratch … um … your head. “Bush Beat Kerry But He Didn’t
Beat Me” was the perky slogan that brought what MoveOn says are “tens
of thousands” of supporters to these post-defeat huddles. And I do mean
defeat. Because while Bush didn’t beat MoveOn, he sure as hell whipped MoveOn’s
candidate which, the last time I checked, is the only thing that counts in an
It’s more than appropriate to distance yourself from a defeated
candidate. In the case of Kerry, the quicker the better. Distancing yourself
from your mistakes without first acknowledging what they were, however, is quite
I demand no mea culpas from the Democrats. In fact, I don’t really
care what the Democrats do. The hardened inner shell of the party can and will
go on as it pleases, raising gazillions and favoring sure-fire loser candidates
like Hillary Clinton.
I do care, however, about all those liberals and radicals and
young voters who invested so much of their hope in MoveOn and similar groups
as the backbone of some new progressive movement. Please proceed with great
caution and even more skepticism.
The attendees at the MoveOn parties were asked to vote on what
they think are the most important issues to be pursued over the next four years.
The results, by my reckoning, are mind-blowing. Election reform and media reform
came in first and second.
This is classic denial, a clumsy outsourcing of political responsibility.
The inherent message: We or, if you prefer, Kerry lost because the voting was
fishy and the media were skewed. Not our fault that we couldn’t rouse a majority.
The only big problem Democrats have are external, not internal.
I’d actually be okay with these results if some of the root issues
of the Democratic defeat — or at least their correctives — had been listed among
the other top priorities chosen. But the war in Iraq came in as the third priority,
followed by the environment, the Supreme Court and civil liberties. MoveOn lists
Let’s give each selected issue a quick glance:
Voting reform. Yes, let’s tighten up the process. That would be
about the 39th item on my “Fix America” list.
Media reform. Does that mean breaking up the conglomerates? A
great idea. And one that is doable shortly after the working class seizes power
and abolishes capitalism.
The war in Iraq. What does that mean? For or against? As soon
as the Democrats decide, let me know.
The environment, the Supremes and civil liberties. All worthy
issues. None of them, however, offers a clue to a political strategy capable
of building a political majority broad enough to govern and effect reform (remember
that winning the White House alone ain’t enough).
Notably missing from the recipe dashed out by the MoveOn meetings
are anything resembling an aggressive agenda that directly confronts the phony
populism of the Republicans. Make no mistake about it. A progressive strategy
has to consciously undercut the GOP’s appeal among working- and middle-class
families by offering a tangible realignment of national politics. Urging people
to vote against Republicans because they are bad and evil, or convincing yourself
people vote Republican because they are ill-informed, stupid or brainwashed
ain’t gonna cut it. I hope that that much, at least, has been learned from the
But apparently not. What would the MoveOn agenda — as listed in
those six priorities — mean for Americans worried about their jobs, their wages,
their schools, their housing, their health care? And yes, their taxes (that
remain too high for individuals and way too low for corporations)?
No doubt these omissions reflect some of the class and cultural
limitations of groups like MoveOn. These are fundamentally middle-class or better
congregations of comfortable Volvo Democrats who don’t have excessive (if any)
concern over such details as wages and insurance premiums. Fact is, whether
a Republican or a Democrat or anyone else sits in the Oval Office has but negligible
effect on their daily lives.
Meeting together was probably in itself a mistake. What is accomplished
by getting a group of like-minded folks in one room to ask each other what they
want? How about trying something really different — like asking people who don’t
automatically agree with you (but ought to) what they want? Wouldn’t it have
been a more useful exercise for MoveOn to send its “tens of thousands”
of adherents into the field with the assignment of each one talking to 10 people
who are just like them — except that they voted for Bush? Might something more
useful had been learned?
Maybe then we would have seen at least a suggestion of self-criticism
on the MoveOn wish list. Last week, interviewed on MSNBC, former Howard Dean
campaign manager Joe Trippi lamented that the only way Democrats beat Republicans
this last election was in racking up million-dollar-level contributions. And,
he said, the only hope Democrats had for the future was to completely rethink
the Democratic Party. One way to begin is to not kid yourself into believing
you are stronger than ever.