Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Jeff Cohen: How to Turn This Election Into a Progressive Mandate

(Now these are Democrats I could support... I notice that there isn't a branch in Kentucky. The political flyers I receive here from Democrats use the same fear tactics as the Republicans: child predators, endangered religious rights, sanctity of the heterosexual marriage, etc... The only way I can differentiate them from the Republicans is that the R flyers have their party allegiance emblazoned across the front, as in we are proud to be reactionary Republicans, while the Democrats hide their party allegiance in the small print--perhaps hoping the conservative reactionaries of Kentucky will vote for them based on the slogans and not notice that they are Democrats?)

How to Turn This Election Into a Progressive Mandate
By Jeff Cohen, PDA National Advisory Board Member

Many pundits are comparing the expected Democratic victory in the upcoming election to the Newt Gingrich-led Republican triumph of 1994, an election in which the GOP gained 52 House seats and ended 40 years of Democratic majority in that chamber.

Unfortunately, the comparison may be overstated. Even if Democrats take control of the House, this will hardly be a triumph like 1994. The Gingrich-led GOP ran on a coherent, detailed, principled – albeit wrong-headed – platform called the “Contract with America.” (One delightful promise: “cuts in social spending. . .to fund prison construction.”)

If Democrats win control of Congress in November, they can hardly claim a mandate for a coherent program. Because Democratic leaders have avoided a comprehensive program, while ducking big issues like Iraq.

So if Democrats win on Nov. 7, don’t think 1994. Think 1998. That was the stunning Congressional election in the sixth year of Bill Clinton, when he was about to be impeached – ridiculously – over deceptions about consensual sex with Monica Lewinsky. Voters went to the polls and shocked the Beltway (with pundits predicting GOP House gains of up to 15 or 20 seats) by giving Democrats a pickup of five seats.

1998 was nothing more – and nothing less – than a rejection of rightwing extremism run amuck. A rebuke to ideologues pursuing an agenda so zealously that they lost touch with public sentiment and with reality. It was also the beginning of a grassroots group called – as in “simply censure Clinton and move on to more important issues.”

A Democratic win in 2006 would be similar to 1998: a rejection of rightwing extremism and hypocrisy – from the Iraq disaster to fiscal abandon to preachers of morality and war lining their own pockets.

So how do we make 2006 more than just a rejection of the other side? And with a wide-open presidential campaign approaching, how do we move a majority of the country to embrace a positive agenda for reform?

First, by recognizing that change comes from below. Today’s Democratic leadership doesn’t have a coherent progressive agenda – but neither did FDR when he won the presidency in 1932. Powerful grassroots organizations and unions propelled the New Deal = agenda and pushed the Democrats to enact one popular program after another that made them the dominant party for many years.

Second, by fighting to change the Democratic leadership. This is especially crucial in advance of 2008. By and large, the current leadership has few principles, except taking power. . .and is generally inept at that. It’s timid, waffling, too close to corporate interests and too afraid of the American public, especially on issues where the public is more progressive than they are – from Iraq withdrawal to trade to universal healthcare. That’s why a progressive platform was avoided in 2006– and why Democrats could not win in 2000, 2002 and 2004 (or win by enough to avoid the election being pilfered).

2006 should have been about a positive agenda – a permanent one, not something that needs to be reinvented every election cycle. But a progressive platform is unthinkable with pro-war corporatists like Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel running the Democratic Senate and House campaigns, and often choosing the candidates (including a slew of hawkish pro-corporate types.)

Democrats need a progressive compact with America emphasizing national health insurance, just taxation, living wages, jobs-producing energy programs, trade policies that protect incomes and the environment. Polls show these are popular measures with the American public; they are not so popular with corporate lobbyists and consultants close to Schumer, Emanuel and the Clinton wing of the party.

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