LAST UPDATED: MARCH 9, 10:08 AM PT:
Yesterday's news from the Intelligence Committee was disheartening, but not unexpected. I'll have a fuller postmortem up soon, but in passing I'd like to explain how I see the big picture:
We're in a two-front war. Of course, we're fighting the neofascist elements currently controlling the Republican Party -- but to succeed there, we first need to eliminate the accommodationists and enablers -- the Vichys -- from within our own party. For example, we'll never stop the ascension of people like Sam Alito if we can't even get Democrats to oppose him. So we're fighting both to blow up the Republicans' troop trains, AND to keep some elements of our own party from getting in our way while we do so. We can't do one successfully without the other. Without solid teamwork by the Ds, we can't beat the Rs, which means we have to rein in the Vs. Simple as that. In wartime -- the war being the one against creeping fascism in America -- we can't afford the luxury of "free votes" on critical issues.
Viewed that way, yesterday's Intelligence Committee vote was a partial success: there were no Democratic defections. We held together, and forced the Republicans to make steep political concessions -- and incur a political price -- in order to have their way. That's a big gain, considering our recent history of defections and accommodation.
This perspective also explains why an effort named VichyDems is active in the netboots movement. This site is the Web's Minority Whip, working to keep the cats in a herd. In addition, we're pushing for party unity, not for its own sake, but specifically around an ideology of opposition instead of compromise, because history proves -- contrary to Beltway conventional wisdom -- that for Democrats as a whole, running to the center DOES NOT WORK.
So: keep Dems from straying, and maintain a progressive rather than centrist/accommodationist message. That's the formula for success.
Now, not many individual senators are "Vichys." Not every Blue Dog or centrist is an enabler or an accommodationist. But I'll go out on a limb and say that certain groups within the party, certain ideologies and structures, ARE Vichy, in that they weaken our efforts to regain a role in government and give political cover to the Rs. Chief among these are the Democratic Leadership Council, which continues to promote the false doctrine that centrism wins elections, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which jumps the gun by giving tremendous support to incumbents facing good Democratic challengers in primary contests instead of allowing the voters an honest choice then backing the voters' nominee full-bore in the general election. Those mechanisms -- regardless of whether their members think so -- enable and empower the Republican monopoly on governance.
In other words, we'll never return the nation to its progressive roots, or beat back the creeping neofascism that's beguiling our fellow-citizens, until we can beat back both the lie that our salvation lies in centrism, and the centrist "party machines" that select our candidates for us. Which means, in turn, that to win we need to be clearheaded enough, and courageous enough, to call a spade a spade -- to identify the Democrats and the Democratic institutions that are part of the problem, and resist them, not as enemies, but as obstacles, just as the French Resistance resisted the Vichys while fighting the Nazis.
That's a very long introduction to a relatively short story, but I thought it was important to give this some context. As we progressives work our tails off on the Roots Project and other netboots efforts; as Howard Dean works to create a Democratic Party that's more responsive to the People and that courageously mounts a long-term, fifty-state strategy; and as MoveOn, People for the American Way and others fight to bring the progressive message to more people, the accommodationist-centrists in the Party are fighting to retain their hold on power. They'd rather be the unchallenged leaders of a losing party than share power in a winning party -- exactly as the Vichy French did. Such Democrats are not exactly our enemies, as Bush and his ilk are, but they're an obstacle to be overcome without sentiment or second thoughts.
Here's their latest obstructionism, from Thomas B. Edsall of The Washington Post:
A group of well-connected Democrats led by a former top aide to Bill Clinton is raising millions of dollars to start a private firm that plans to compile huge amounts of data on Americans to identify Democratic voters and blunt what has been a clear Republican lead in using technology for political advantage.
The effort by Harold Ickes, a deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House and an adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), is prompting intense behind-the-scenes debate in Democratic circles. Officials at the Democratic National Committee think that creating a modern database is their job, and they say that a competing for-profit entity could divert energy and money that should instead be invested with the national party.
Ickes and others involved in the effort acknowledge that their activities are in part a vote of no confidence that the DNC under Chairman Howard Dean is ready to compete with Republicans on the technological front. "The Republicans have developed a cadre of people who appreciate databases and know how to use them, and we are way behind the march," said Ickes, whose political technology venture is being backed by financier George Soros.
Ickes's effort is drawing particular notice among Washington operatives who know about it because of speculation that he is acting to build a campaign resource for a possible 2008 presidential run by Hillary Clinton.
Make no mistake: this is not about helping Democrats close the technological gap with Republicans. If they were merely trying to help the party, they'd be giving the "data warehouse" to the DNC. No: this is about the DLC crowd maintaining a technological advantage over Dean's DNC and the rest of us Progressives. It's about Clinton centrists trying to secure permanent control over the Democratic Party -- the same goal that Grover Norquist, Carl Rove, and the folks at the Project for a New American Century have for the Republican Party and the nation. It's about ensuring that Hillary Clinton starts her run at the Presidency with a technological advantage that no other Democratic candidate can overcome -- and, to ensure that she is the only one with that advantage, taking care that a private firm which her backers control, and not Howard Dean or the DNC, own the data.
Now do you see why the VichyDems theme is so important? We cannot restore a Progressive (in the early-20th-Century sense) America unless we can wrest control of the political machine from both neofascists like Norquist, Rove, and PNAC AND from the centrist Democrats who have cost us our historical control of Congress but who nevertheless continue to think they're entitled to rule our party and are taking steps to shut everyone else out of power.
The power brokers behind the DLC and related groups (including, increasingly, Hillary Clinton) are not necessarilyVichys themselves. But by seeking, not only to advocate for a centrist position, but to lock people with other views out of the process, they are ensuring that the Democratic Party keeps losing elections. Hillary Clinton is entitled to seek the Democratic Party's nomination for President in 2008. She'll be a strong contender, and that's good. But she is NOT entitled to shut other Democrats out of the process, just to secure her win. Machiavellian realpolitik against the Republicans in the general election? Great. But not in the primaries. Right now, the DLC crowd is a huge obstacle to our party's success, and particularly to restoring democracy to our party's primaries. We can't afford to allow sentiment, or a misguided understanding of what "party unity" means, to stop us from saying so, and overcoming them.
I have lots more to say about restoring democracy to the Democratic primary process. We'll even have a celebrity guest blogger later today, to talk about how the centrist machine is squeezing good candidates off the public's radar. For now, though, please think hard about the issues discussed above, and get ready to participate in a vigorous discussion over what we need to do to break the accommodationist/centrist stranglehold.
UPDATE: Even Molly Ivins agrees with me.
UPDATE 2: As promised, Chuck Pennacchio, Democratic candidate for Senate from Pennsylvania, guest blogs here and gives his no-holds-barred analysis of how party politics interfere with the democratic, and Democratic, process.
UPDATE 3: It's always nice when my little country-mediator thoughts are echoed by someone smart like Howard Fineman of Newsweek, who in an article titled "Hillary's Money Politics: The Clintons Take a Page From the Bush Playbook" writes:
With her husband's help (acting in the same role former President George H.W. Bush played for his son), Hillary is aiming for a war chest of at least $100 million by the late fall of 2007. At the same time, her longtime political liege, Harold Ickes, has founded a voter data-mining firm that may well have her as its main client. If she gets the nomination, expect her to try to do in the general election what Bush did in 2000 and 2004: give up federal funding to gain the freedom to spend whatever she can raise.
And she is following Bush in another way: not only is she asking big donors to support her—she is, at least implicitly, asking them NOT to give to anyone else.
See? What I said: Hillary is not merely seeking to win the 2008 Presidential primary, she is seeking to monopolize it, both financially and -- astutely; she IS a 21st-Century politician -- informationally. She who has the largest warchest AND the best data will win the primary. By itself, that's just practical politics. But when a party leader uses her position and her standing with big-money contributors like Soros, not just to raise money and acquire information, but to prevent other Democrats from raising money or accessing that information, then she's no longer working in our best interests. It's Paul Hackett all over again.
Democrats deserve an honest, open Presidential primary. If we don't put a stop to Clinton's and Ickes' machinations, however, the contest will be decided before it's even begun -- and that's bad both for our party and for the nation.
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