Thinking About the Election

Earlier this week, Ryan Grim of Huffington Post wrote:

Over the past decade and a half, the party of FDR, JFK and LBJ drifted away from its foundation and found refuge in a transactional politics that is being forcefully rejected by voters. Presented with the chance to make history, Democrats made deals — with pill makers, with device makers, with hospital executives, with hedge fund managers, with swaps dealers, with auto dealers, with “non-bank financial institutions.” As the tide turned, Democrats found those corporate interests scurrying back to the GOP. When the party turned back to its people, they were nowhere to be found. Compromise in pursuit of a broadly popular, unifying agenda is a forgivable sin. Compromise just to put points on the board leads to a blowout.

Last night, HuffPost Hill included this snippet on the election results:

ARMAGEDDON – This is a very, very, very bad night for the progressive movement — a blow that calls into question whether there is such a thing. The idea that running as a passionate progressive-populist, working hard, raising a ton of money and doing bang-up constituent work is a legitimate path to reelection in a conservative district, even in a wave year, was thoroughly demolished. Tom Perriello is a thoughtful, charming, hard-working freshman whose progressive values are deeply held. He worked as hard as anyone in Congress, passionately articulated and defended his controversial votes, raised a ton of money and held endless townhalls while running a flawless campaign in his rural House district. Yet he lost to an empty-headed, country-club Republican who refused to take a position on anything other than the need to cut taxes and spending. He was swamped with corporate money. Carol Shea-Porter and Mary Jo Kilroy, also tough progressives in swing districts, met similar fates — the former to a guy who was part of a bar fight this year and skipped out before the cops came and somehow came up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to lend his campaign after telling voters he was personally broke and the latter to A BANK LOBBYIST. And Alan Grayson went down. And Pat Toomey won in Pennsylvania. Pat Toomey. The Club for Growth derivatives trader. HuffPost Hill is out of answers.

I think the value of the online progressive community, including reporters like Ryan at HuffPost, is that while the right (of both parties) and the Beltway press will try to explain away losses of Grayson, Carol Shea-Porter, Kilroy and a couple others as the result of them being too liberal, we can rebut that simplistic view while learning from what happened to make sure the next crop of progressive elected officialss don’t suffer the same fate.

At base level, not enough was done by elected officials to make peoples’ lives better. But questions about who their opponents were, what sort of outside spending they face, what sort of Democratic Party support they received, what sort of labor support they received, what sort of other progressive group support they received, what specific votes they took that may or may not have been tough for their district, how they communicated with their constituents about these votes, what their opponents said about these votes, and what vision of change they presented to their constituents to befit their reelection are all very important to answer. We can look at them and provide a more robust answer than “progressives can’t stay in office.”

Today might feel like failure, especially with the loss of folks like Grayson and Perriello. But if the Conventional Wisdom coalesces around the Third Way line, then we’ve really failed, as it brings us back to a pre-2004 attitude within the Democratic Party and almost certainly ensures prolonged pain for the American people.

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