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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Gatecrashing

By Barbara O'Brien


By Barbara O'Brien -- This Thursday night Markos Moulitsas (along with Wynton Marsalis and Anna Burger) is being honored with a Justice Award from the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy in New York City. Read more from Jane Hamsher, here.

I realize there’s some ambivalence about Kos among leftie bloggers and blog readers. See, for example, Nick Bourbaki’s posts at Wampum, here and here. And there was snarking at Kos recently in a comment thread here at Unclaimed Territory, in a post discussing Ned Lamont’s challenge of Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat. Several commenters complained that Kos is more interested in electing Democrats than electing the best progressive candidates, who might be from a third party.

But consider: We are up against a big, well-funded, and well-organized extremist right-wing faction that has taken over the White House and Congress and is well on the way toward taking over the judiciary. This faction spouts rhetoric about “freedom” and “democracy” but in fact supports radical theories about the Constitution that have put this nation on the road to totalitarianism. The regime in power has gotten us into one pointless and ruinous war and appears to be preparing to get us into another one. They are threatening the health of the planet by ignoring global warming, and the point at which it will be too late to act is fast approaching. They have strengthened their grip on power by corrupting elections and appropriating news media so that citizens can’t learn the truth. They are strangling our economy with profligate spending combined with irresponsible tax cuts, and every second that passes we are deeper and deeper in debt to other nations, like China.

The house is on fire, in other words. Some of us think our first priority is to put the fire out any way we can. We can argue about what wallpaper pattern would look best in the master bedroom some other time.

If the Democrats can win back a majority in the House this November — or, even better, the entire Congress — the Dems will have some power with which to fight the Right. That doesn’t mean they will, of course; I expect we will need to apply pressure on a future Dem majority to be sure they use their subpoena power (which they don’t have as a minority) and conduct meaningful investigations to expose the Bushies and the extremist Right for the danger to America that they are. But a Democratic majority in even one house will curtail some of the Bush regime’s ability to steamroll over American rights and values any time it pleases.

I can't speak for Kos, but I support Democratic candidates in the November elections (most of ‘em, anyway) not because I believe they are always right or because I think a Democratic majority in the House will fix all our political problems. I admit that many Dems running for election in November are less progressive than I wish they were. I've complained about Dem spinelessness and Dem appeasement of the Bush White House as much as anyone. Even if we succeed in taking at least part of Congress away from the Republicans there will still be a long, hard fight ahead to restore America to anything approximating political health.

But a Dem majority would give us a better position from which to fight and a lot more ammunition to fight with. If we don’t take back part of Congress in November, it means two more years of having no power in Washington at all.

The Bushies can do a lot of damage in two years, folks.

Before and after the midterms, netroots activists should push hard to increase our influence among the Dems. We must deliver the message to the Democratic Party establishment that it’s time to stop dancing the Clinton triangulation two-step. If we can topple Joe Lieberman, the most egregious of the DINO Bush bootlickers, this would send a clear signal to the Dems that they must reckon with us, and that they can’t take our loyalty for granted. This is essentially the argument made by Kos and Jerome Armstrong in Crashing the Gate.

There’s a lot more to be done to make America safe for progressivism again, such as reform media so that our messages reach the public without being twisted by the rightie noise machine. Election reform, real campaign reform — all vital goals, and none will be easy to achieve.

But if the Dems don’t succeed in the 2006 midterms, prepare to kiss it all off. That’s reality. And another reality is that until we change the way we conduct elections — allow instant runoff elections, for example — progressive third party candidates will not only lose all but local elections, they will split the progressive vote and hand elections to Republicans. This has been happening in America since the first political parties emerged, which was while the ink was still drying on the Constitution. I do believe a pattern has been established; it's sheer foolishness to pretend otherwise.

Where does Kos fit into this? IMO Kos is more of an organizer than a blogger, but that’s OK. The netroots are a cornucopia of great bloggers, but great organizers are harder to come by. I don’t always agree with Kos, but I admire his ability to get in the faces of politicians and media and demand attention. The YearlyKos convention — which was fabulous, IMO, and if they have another one next year I’m already there — was a major step toward giving netroots progressivism real power in the flesh. I couldn’t have done it. I suspect most of us couldn’t have done it. But Kos did it, and he deserves the credit. So, I congratulate Kos for being honored by the Drum Major Institute. I wish him continued success, and I hope more bloggers step out from behind their monitors and follow his lead.

And if we keep fighting, the day will come when progressive goals will be achievable. Goals like providing health care for all Americans and a genuine commitment to reducing global warming will no longer be kept dangling out of our reach by the power of the Right. And I hope someday to have the luxury of choosing the best progressive candidate regardless of party. But that day is yet to come.

Last January I caught some flames with this post, in which I said that too much of the Left was “stuck in a 1970s time warp of identity politics and street theater projects and handing out fliers for the next cause du jour rally.” But for at least forty years — since I was old enough to pay attention to politics — I’ve watched earnest and dedicated liberals stand outside the gates of power and hand out essentially the same fliers for the same causes, year after year, decade after decade. And in most cases we’re no closer to achieving real change than we were forty years ago.

So I say that if in-fighting over ideological purity is getting in the way of having the power to enact progressive policies, then the hell with ideological purity. Speaking truth to power is grand, but let’s not forget the ultimate goal is to be power. Until we have power, all our ideas, and our idealism, are just dreams.

I believe one of the reasons we have been rendered into a minority is that too many lefties act and think like a minority; we’re perpetually out of power because that’s how we envision ourselves. So even though a large majority of the American public now agrees with us on Iraq, for example, somehow we’re the extremists, and the hawks — who dominate government and media — paint themselves as mainstream. Righties, on the other hand, maintain total faith that the majority of Americans are with them, even if poll after poll says otherwise. And that faith, however delusional, has empowered them.

We are the mainstream. We are the majority. But to take our rightful place in American politics and government we must start thinking like a majority and acting like a majority. It’s way past time to stop standing outside the gates of power handing out fliers. Kos is right -- it’s time to crash the gate.

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