Natasha Chart, one of my favorite progressive bloggers, has posted a real gut-check of an open letter to Democratic elected officials. In it, Chart eviscerates the do-nothingism of Democratic office holders, who spend their time lying to the base about what they will do for them if elected, then painting corporate victories in office as progressive ones. Chart charges that Democrats must cease demanding the base to stop believing our lying eyes.
What I’m certain of is that if an illusion must be maintained at all costs, it will eventually cost everything.
It’s already cost us affordable health care, and likely much of women’s access to reproductive healthcare, in your proposed insurance reform. Like many other registered Democratic voters, my plan for health care reform, or health insurance reform, whatever, was to get you elected. Because you said you wanted it as much as I did. You had watched your own loved ones suffer, and heard the heartbreaking stories about people made to endure tremendous hardship or even death, at the hands of bureaucratic executioners working underwriting desks at Aetna, Cigna, etc. You told us you wanted to work for us and make the negotiations over reform transparent, because you were on our side.
And even if the bills you came up with are being hailed as must-pass progressive legislation, I think you know you lied to us about what you were going to deliver. You lied. There’s no point pretending it isn’t so, either to myself or anyone else. You just lied.
The stock market isn’t lying about it. Health insurance stocks are up, because the people with a lot of money and power in this country know who won this fight. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t your typical voter. I might not be the equal of anyone in the investor class in your eyes, but I think I at least have the right to as much truth as they do, and they know you lied to me for their sakes. I’m sure they’re very grateful.
I could go on about the bank bailouts, your disastrous bribes to polluters masked by trite pennies thrown at renewable energy, failed promises to the LGBT community, the abandonment of the unions, yadda, yadda, yadda. But why? You started selling us out when you took over Congress in 2006 and you never stopped, not with the trifecta, not with your damn 60 votes, not with the earth-shattering momentum of the most successful small-donor fundraising campaign in the history of the whole *ing world.
Natasha goes on to a place where I wouldn’t go – telling officials to stop actually doing anything, just collect their paycheck and go home. I think there is a step where we push for accountability and the keeping of promises that is too important to skip.
Nonetheless, Chart’s letter is a searing indictment of what we’ve seen out of Democratic elected officials over the past three years. There’s only so far the people whose activism and small-dollar donations carried these officials into office will go when they feel like they’ve been lied to. Now I don’t expect any significant number will flip to the GOP or go join the Tea Baggers, but people suggesting this is a possibility are only insulting the convictions of progressive base activists. Instead, I expect people to tune out, become cynics, and refocus their efforts back into the issue campaigns they care most about.
For a long time I believed, like Natasha, that the best way to accomplish a progressive agenda — spreading human rights, health care, equality, and rebuilding the middle class — was best accomplished through elected strong Democratic majorities. A majority, I thought, was a better vehicle for achieving our goals than stronger single-issue campaigns. In many ways, the growth of the progressive online movement and the campaign for “More and Better Democrats” is predicated on this assumption. Sadly, we have consistently seen that this is not in fact a recipe for achieving progressive policies.
The alternative electorally is to push for “Better and Better Democrats,” something that has been discussed by me and many others over the past two years. To be even more pointed, progressive change can only be achieved when the blue parts of this country are made bluer. Elected officials need to, at minimum, mirror their districts. No more Blue Dogs in D+20 districts.
The balance between electing real progressives to office and increasing our energies and resources towards the issue campaigns that we really care about is a tough one. After all, environmental and energy policy reform can’t be done blind to the needs of labor law reform. There must still be a strong enough progressive compass that groups working independently of each other still move in the same direction.
The last issue is simply that for movement issue activism to be successful, elected officials have to be convinced to listen to the base. They have to be committed to keeping their promises from the campaign trail. How can these results be achieved? That’s less clear. Do promise-breakers need to be primaried? Will it help to make examples of turncoats? Or will it only cause the wall between Democratic elected officials and the base to be raised higher? These are tough questions and answers may not be forthcoming without some field testing of different strategies.