Natasha Chart’s Open Letter to Dem Electeds

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.

6 thoughts on “Natasha Chart’s Open Letter to Dem Electeds

  1. As you push for more “better and better” Democrats, i would ask this, why not just push for Progressives? Increasingly, the right is pushing farther right, and the left is pushing farther left – why not just push for the abandonment of a two-party system? The public has far more views and desires of their officers than are being reflected by either Democrats or Republicans, yet we’re stuck with these 2 parties because no politician thinks he has a chance in being elected without the support of one or the other of these established groups. Why not stop complaining about the lack of progressive action by the Democrats, and instead, collect and elect a Progressive – or at least run a Progressive against a Democrat. The left and the right fringes do a lot of hollering and yelling to make themselves heard, but at the polls, the settle for what’s available in the Democrat and Republican columns. If there is a sufficient mass (which those hollering would say there is) then why not just make new columns?


  2. Well that certainly is a possibility. But I’m not sure what the path for a Progressive third party looks like. Getting support for candidates outside the two party system is incredibly hard, arguably harder than getting Democrats to behave as progressives.


  3. No question it would be difficult! But here, those who are scolding the democrats for compromising and being centrist are being hypocritical. Progressives who voted for the Democrats that were being offered were the first to compromise. And since they could not offer a Progressive candidate, than how can it be argued that the Democrats that were elected are not properly representing their electorates? Doesn’t that mean that the electorate wanted a more centrist Democrat?
    I think, to truly be progressive, Progressives as a group need to seek to change the body of government. If Progressives want better representation, they should be voting for Progressives, not railing on Democrats who don’t behave as Progressives.


  4. Again, good point, but what I’m saying is that in this case, the most likely course of action you’re asking progressives to take is to disenfranchise themselves.

    I think before there can be any realistic talk of a third party emerging that represents progressives, there needs to be campaign finance reform that leads to all federal races being limited to a combination of public funding and small dollar ($100 or less) contributions. No PAC contributions. No bundling of checks.

    A third party can’t be nationally viable without campaign finance reform. So maybe that is what progressives should work for first.


  5. Campaign finance reform probably would be a good place to start. Also, targeted support. Start with just one congressman or senator – find a race where a good Progressive candidate could be viable, and have the community treat it as a national campaign, get the loads of small donations and make this candidate the first elected Progressive.

    As for disenfranchisement, I would ask, what are the Progressives who complain now, if not disenfranchised? The only difference between “throwing away” their vote on a 3rd party and on a Democrat who isn’t meeting their expectations is that they voted for the winner.


  6. Well the targeting already takes place in the primarying of bad Dems and support of better Dems. So that shift is totally within line of how progressive activists are already thinking.

    The disenfranchisement question isn’t academic. Progressives can still vote in Dem primaries and help move the party to the left within that process. They might not always get results, but they are participating. Ducking out of that process to not be disappointed might have peace of mind value, but without larger structural changes it doesn’t succeed in moving the needle.

    The real issue, then, is that you can’t achieve change one voter at a time. So how do you do it en masse?


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