Sunday, June 11, 2006
Every Sunday CUIP's political director Jacqueline Salit and strategist and philosopher Fred Newman watch the political talk shows and discuss them. Here are excerpts from their dialogue on Sunday, June 18, 2006 after watching "The Chris Matthews Show," "Meet the Press" and "The McLaughlin Group."
Salit: "Meet the Press" devoted a segment to coverage of the YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas, which is the first annual convention of DailyKos, one of the major liberal political blogs. Premise number one: liberal bloggers are changing the political landscape. Markos Moulitsas says the liberal blogosphere is about creating a rapid response force which has the long term capability to go up against what he calls "the Republican Right noise machine." Build public awareness on issues, mobilize public involvement, create a core constituency and keep it active and engaged. This whole thing is strongly allied with the Democratic Party from jump street. They’re not positioning this thing as an "independent movement"....
Newman: They are a faction within the Democratic Party that is fundamentally like every other faction. They see a power vacuum and they’re looking to fill it and to take over.
Salit: Okay. Based on Markos’ presentation, how would you describe them ideologically?
Newman: They have no serious commitment to particular issues. They’re the "New Democrats," and they’re mainly concerned with winning back something that they haven’t had for a long time. Their ideology is to make the Democrats happy again.
Salit: If there’s a power vacuum in the Democratic Party that they’re looking to fill, how do they fill it? Do they fill it by expanding the ranks of the party, by bringing younger voters into the party and then leveraging that with the party’s power structure?
Newman: They see themselves, I think, as a counterweight to the far right inside the Republican Party. They think that the edge the Republicans have had in recent years has been because of the energy and drive of the far right, which is probably true. They think that if they can somehow neutralize that, it’ll bring the Democrats back to power and happy days will be here again.
Salit: But the Republican Right is organized and mobilized around certain core ideological issues which they leverage with and inside the Republican Party. The liberal blogosphere is a constituency that, arguably, has no core ideological issues, but rather....
Newman: I don’t agree with that. The new ideology emerging in the Democratic Party is the ideology of winning.
Newman: Winning again. That’s what they believe in. They don’t stand for anything other than winning. This is the legacy of Bill Clinton.
Salit: Electability. That’s the key thing.
Newman: Well, I prefer to call it "winning" because electability doesn’t get you into the White House or any other place, for that matter, if you don’t win.
Salit: Okay. So that’s the "ideology" of this new movement.
Newman: They’re young pragmatists.
Salit: Okay. And their philosophy is; ‘We’ve got to get the Democrats back into the White House and back in control of Congress. And then good things will follow.’
Newman: You can call it their philosophy. It’s rather the absence of philosophy.
Salit: Where does the Iraq war figure in on this? The Dean movement had a position on the war. The Dean movement opposed our involvement in Iraq.
Newman: That’s tough to say. There was some substance to the "anti-war" of the Vietnam anti-war movement, including opposition to U.S. imperialism. I don’t know if that’s true relative to the Iraq anti-war movement. I think much of today’s anti-war movement is negativism against the Republicans. I guess what I’m saying is that, in the final analysis, these bloggers....
Salit: Some call them Kossacks....
Newman: ....are no different than the rest of the Democrats. I don’t think we should read anything remotely progressive or remotely independent into this movement.
Salit: I agree with you there.
Newman: Which doesn’t mean that they aren’t a significant force, or perhaps, more precisely, they’ve made themselves players.
Salit: They’re getting increasing amounts of media attention from the "old media." It’s kind of an old media/new media story, at least that’s one part of it. And they’ve been playing on the ground, in some Democratic primaries. For example, the liberal bloggers support Ned Lamont, who is running against Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Party primary in Connecticut.
Newman: They’re doing what I’ve been pushing very hard for your independents to do. And it can be done. And I think your independents can learn something from it. All it takes is communicating. And that’s what they’re doing. They’re doing it on the Internet. They’re doing it on campuses. And we have to do the same thing, because if you can do that without having any philosophical or political or socially progressive positions, you can certainly do it if you have some, which your independent networks do.
Salit: Their approach is that the result that they’re looking for is further empowerment of the Democratic Party. That’s their bottom line. What the independents are looking for is further empowerment of the independent voter and a restructuring of the political system.
Newman: Empowering independent voters is the instrumentation for a restructuring of the political system to make it democratic for all voters. It’s the independents who stand for genuine political reform. Contrary to the typical arguments used against the independents – that we stand for nothing – we actually do stand for something. It’s the Democrats who stand for nothing. The far right and the Republican Party stand for something. The independents, the progressive independents, stand for something. The Democrats stand for nothing....except winning. That’s Clintonian triangulation in its most fundamental form.
Salit: The independents want political reform. They want a restructuring of the political process to revitalize democracy, to make it more energized, to give the American people more direct political control over policymaking, over government, over the culture of political life. So, independents have to look for partners in the presidential field who are willing to back them in that approach.
Salit: Now, the establishment perception of the independent voter is that independents largely split 50/50 between supporting Democrats and Republicans. That’s been the deal. Now George Bush is declining in popularity. So, the Cook Political Report people are saying whereas independents used to split 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans, it’s now looking more like it’s going to go 70/30 between Democrats and Republicans. And so there’s this perception, some combination of a perception and a hope, that this is going to give an edge to the Democrats in the midterms and the upcoming presidential. How do independents leverage their position in that? We build, we organize, we reach out, we get involved in these local and state races. We communicate, we look to create coalitions and educate all candidates....
Newman: I don’t think you can look at it that way, Jack. The independents, it seems to me, have to begin with the premise that the country is split roughly, one third, one third, one third. And, the independents have a bona fide position. There’s substance to it, as we just described: radical political reform to increase the level of democracy in the country. And that’s a premise, or a pre-condition, for going on to address a host of other issues. As I said to you, the Republican Party has a position. It’s a reactionary position, but it’s a position. The Democrats are into winning. And they’re mainly into negating the Republicans, but don’t offer any kind of positive vision. We have to try to win people from the other two thirds over to the independent third, even as we’re fighting to win the broad independent movement to the vision of political reform. We don’t accept the premise that the independents are only a swing vote. You have to deny that premise vehemently. It’s a one third, one third, one third fight at the base level for....
Salit: ....the direction of the country.
Newman: Yes, for the hearts and minds of the people, as they say. And I think that if it’s well fought over time, we can win people over to our one third and make it a larger and more significant force. It will, in the final analysis, in my opinion, win out over both the pointless Democratic Party and the reactionary Republican Party.
Salit: The Republican Party has been more open, in this regard.
Newman: Yes, it has. I don’t see any new forces emerging in the Democratic Party. Even the bloggers are the same old, same old. The only person, arguably, in the Democratic Party who is saying anything new is, interestingly enough, Al Gore. He says, and not without some reason, that the world/the earth is coming to an end. And we have to do something about it. That’s a visionary position. Apparently, he doesn’t plan on running again. It’s hard to put the Democratic non-ideological position, the "win at any cost" position, together with Al Gore’s position. They don’t go together.
Salit: He could run as an independent.
Newman: I think Gore thinks that he can’t win as an independent. He might be right.
Salit: If you had to make an argument for a scenario in which he could, how would you make it? We’ve talked in the past about how environmental issues, the global warming questions, cross ideological lines. And if you’re willing to say that both parties are taking us down a path to destroying the world, presumably you could bring a plurality of people together in a presidential election.
Newman: I think he’d have to combine that position with a position for genuine, radical political reform.
Newman: The argument would be, if we’re going to send the earth to Hell, it should at least be done by a substantial vote from all the people, not just from a....
Salit: .... bunch of guys deciding to reject the Kyoto protocols. And what about the fact that more and more political professionals are looking at the picture in state and local races and are saying "independents could be the deciding factor."
Newman: I think that we have to teach independents that that’s exactly not the way to look at it, namely in terms of how it’s going to benefit the Republican vs. the Democrat. The independents have to work to communicate with each other to articulate a strong position about radical political reform. Then they go with whoever comes to them and says they will give expression to that position as part of what they’re going to stand for. That’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of communication, a lot of outreach. But there is a position there to communicate. And that’s what the independents have to be identified with, not just the swing vote. Because who cares who wins the election? This is a time for independents to play hard to get. Not hard to get between Republicans and Democrats, but hard to get relative to their own commitment to a position, which is radical political reform.
What is radical political reform? Well, it’s a lot of different things. It goes all the way from local nonpartisan elections, as we tried in New York, the right to I&R, to changes in the voting machines. It goes from there all the way to national referenda. The full range. It goes to – and here we might have Hillary on our side – eliminating the electoral college. There are a lot of different planks to it, but in general, it stands for radical, popular political reform. It’s the critical threshold issue, I would argue. But that’s what’s got to be done on the ground, at the organizing level. You’ve got to build that movement. Is there a base for that movement? Yes. It’s the one third of the country that’s independent. Are they organized around that now? No. Are they there as a potential base to be organized in that way? Yes. Would it be exclusive? No. You could also organize Democrats and Republicans into that because there are some Democrats and Republicans who feel that way strongly, but are not satisfied with what their parties are doing. There’s an organizing struggle out there to be had. And independents can be full participants in it. The country’s gone one third independent. In fact, by some polls the independents are slightly ahead. But "independent" still means what it means, which is largely defined by Democrats and Republicans and is defined as swing voters. We progressive independents have to change that definition.
Salit: I was talking to some of our people in New Hampshire the other day. One of the things that they were saying to me is that in New Hampshire, when you check the registration form, you can register "Republican," "Democrat" or "Undeclared." And "Undeclared" is 38-39% of the state. It’s the largest single bloc of voters. And this grouping of "Undeclareds;" i.e., independents, were saying to me that they wanted to run a campaign to change the voter registration form because they didn’t like the term "Undeclared" because it’s so relativized to the Democrats and Republicans. They want to use this opportunity to do a public awareness, public education campaign about this very issue....about independents not being swing voters, but being voters that have declared something about how they feel about partisan politics. We had a discussion about pursuing that within the state legislature. Then one of the people suggested: maybe what we should do is look to see if we can get it on the ballot – they have I&R in New Hampshire – so that the voters can make a determination about what it is that this category of voter wants to call themselves and how they want to position themselves. I was very supportive of that.
Newman: I think they should lobby for being identified as "Declared."
Salit: Not "Undeclared" but "Declared?"
Newman: Right. Declared for American democracy, declared for popular democracy.
Salit: Exactly. Well, thank you.
Newman: You’re welcome.