I hinted before that in the coming discussion about what to do now that the Democrat party is waving its true conservative colors around like a tattered battle flag that’s seen more defeats than Oprah has seen stretch marks, I was going to note before we rushed into deciding which Third Party to support that there was a case to be made for taking it back from the conservative minority that is currently strangling it. This is what I was talking about.
Earlier this week, I wrote about the State Secrets Protection Act of 2008, which was co-sponsored by numerous key Senators [including Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Chair (Pat Leahy) and ranking member (Arlen Specter)], and which was approved by the Judiciary Committee last year with all Democrats voting in favor. That bill, in essence, sought to ban the exact abuse of the State Secrets privilege which the Bush administration repeatedly invoked and which, now, the Obama administration has embraced: namely, as a weapon to conceal and immunize government lawbreaking (by compelling the dismissal of entire lawsuits in advance) rather than a limited, document-by-document evidentiary privilege.
Yesterday — as an obvious response to the Obama DOJ’s support for the Bush view of the privilege — Leahy and Specter, along with Russ Feingold, Claire McCaskill, Sheldon Whitehouse and Ted Kennedy, re-introduced that bill in the Senate. When doing so, Leahy made clear that the bill was more needed than ever in light of the actions of the Obama administration.
Sen. Feingold explicitly criticized the Obama administration earlier this week for its endorsement of exactly these abusive theories. Several hours before the Senate bill was introduced, several key House Democrats introduced a similar bill in the House. The ACLU promptly endorsed the bill.
The traditional Democrats are there, busting their humps and ready to take the party back to the center-Left, which is where most of the country is at this point. They’re standing up to Obama, they’re defending the Constitution, and they’re doing it without notice from the press when hardly anybody knows they’re doing it. (Check the links in Greenwald’s story: NONE of them goes to a newspaper report about this bill, and I couldn’t find a single news story about it in any major news venue – not the Times, the Post, or the AP.) What if we do it? What if we support them, take over their issues and play them up? What if we work to defeat conservative Democrats who stymie them?
The majority of elected officials in the Democratic party are liberals or populist progressives, yet the party is run by a few conservative Blue Dog obstructionists who pool resources – and votes – with their GOP counterparts. In fact, about the only thing they don’t do with the GOP is caucus with them even if it seems like they do because they always come up with the same TP’s as the Pubs. Yet despite their minority status, these BD’s rule the Democrat party with an iron fist. The leadership are all BDs and they control committee assignments. They determine policy, staff assignments, tactics and floor strategy, and which arguments will be spun to the media.
I have seen this play out somewhere before: in Massachusetts under Senate Pres Billy Bulger. Bulger, a master power player and a conservative Dem, kept the liberal and progressive Dem reps under his thumb by carefully controlling the access to power of the individual majority members, allowing him to align himself and his conDem cohorts with the GOP minority to pass GOP-conceived bills.
Now, I need to qualify this so we’re clear: the GOP in Mass were (are) split into two parties: the extremist crackpot Pubs who would have fit right in with Coburn, Sensebrenner, Inhofe, Cornyn, McConnell, and the rest of the radcon whackos; and the moderate Pubs who ran as conDems because the official GOP was so discredited they couldn’t get votes anywhere but the enclaves of the New Rich in the east (the Old Rich wouldn’t touch their sorry asses with a 10-foot glove) and the backwaters of central and western Mass where the hicks live. The first were labeled GOP, the second were called “Democrats” and masqueraded as if they were.
What ended up happening was predictable. Conservative control of the Democratic party meant fiscal and electoral alliances with the GOP that helped keep Mass under the thumb of one Republican Gov after another, with some exceptions (Mike Dukakis, as a libDem Gov, was a rarity), for several decades.
Yes, I said “decades”. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. How do you think conservative bimbo GOP Govs like Ed King got elected twice in a Democratic state? Couldn’t be because the conDems went out and campaigned for him, could it? Or were you unaware that we had near 30 years of worthless GOP Govs, including the likes of Mitt Romney?
Well, we did. A liberal, Democratic state has been ruled for nearly 4 decades by a minority of conservatives who ought to be in the GOP but couldn’t get elected if they were so they crossed over and joined Billy, who recruited a lot of them (shades of Rahm Emanuel only this goes back to the 50’s). They held just enough votes to keep the fiscal policies pro-corporate and pro-rich with a consequent loss in tax revenues and corresponding cuts in the budget in areas like education, infrastructure, and state aid to towns and cities. You wouldn’t know it from the press coverage but since the 80’s there have been schools in Mass where parents have to buy their kids’ uniforms and equipment, where the textbooks are 20 years old, and the buildings are crumbling because there’s no maintenance money in the budget.
That’s not how liberals do things, but liberals weren’t running the show.
In the fullness of time, Bulger retired but his place was taken by his hand-picked successor and things went on for years along pretty much the same lines as if he was still there. Occasionally there were eruptions that looked a little like revolts on the part of libDems but they were soon put down and the conDems were back in charge before you knew it (with a little help from their corporate friends).
I left just as Deval Patrick was taking over as the first libDem Gov since the Duke, the result of a long-time fucked-up state budget situation fostered by all those years of conservative economic policies. A pile of libDems were elected with him, maybe enough to make a difference.
We have a similar situation nationally now, and what we are now in a position to do is what Patrick did in Mass: take back the Democratic party from the conservatives. It’s a legitimate strategy. As the item above shows, there are quite a few genuine FDR Dems, populist Dems, and Progressive Dems willing to get up front if we back them, and there are even more waiting in the wings because Rahm Emanuel doesn’t think they’re conservative enough or pliant enough.
We need to stop worrying about the Nader Effect. It’s a shibboleth anyway, a false mythology of blame and denial. It should be clear by now that our politics, as one commenter put it, is “subdivided into two imaginary parties, Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats are slightly more popular than the Republicans because the Democratic winners are not as openly hostile to the losers as the Republican winners.”
Bluntly, us liberals, progressives, and populists really don’t have much to lose, especially since the polls are with us, not the conservative Democrats. We could make a HUGE point of backing FDR Dems in primaries against conDems and make sure the Blue Dog is defeated. If we do that in enough places – and it won’t have to be that many – we can return the Democratic party to its traditional, non-corporate roots. You remember? When it used to be on our side?